When Is the Right Time for Euthanasia?

69

I have a number of friends (and a family member) who have dogs who are nearing the end of their days. I’m noting and processing the events and feelings they are experiencing – and hoping it is several years before I’m in a similar situation (my heart dog, Otto, will be 12 years old in November).

Beau

My sister and her husband have a really old Schnauzer-mix named Beau. He might even be a real Schnauzer. He’s so old, it’s hard to tell! They took in Beau when a friend in distress couldn’t keep him. The friend had gotten Beau as a puppy when her son was 10 years old, and that son is in his late twenties now, so… Beau is old. He has limited vision, limited hearing, has had several strokes and can’t walk a straight line, and is growing increasingly incontinent. On his bad days, it seems almost cruel that he is being kept alive. He may stagger or not be able to get up, he acts like he doesn’t know where he is and is anxious, and he may just suddenly completely empty his bladder on the carpet while standing still, seemingly unaware he is doing so.

But on his good days, he runs up the hall with the rest of his housemates, eats with gusto, goes outside through the dog door and potties without assistance or a reminder to do so, and enjoys his time on the sofa and in bed with his human and canine housemates. So they are very much afraid that if they call the vet to make a euthanasia appointment on one of his bad days, and he’s having a good day on the day of the appointment, the vet may decline to euthanize, or the staff may make them feel like creeps! In fact, they feel sort of pre-emptively guilty about even just talking about “Beau’s time.” My sister and brother-in-law love Beau and want him to have a good end. But when is the right time?

Chaco and Lena

There is Chaco, one of my former foster dogs. She’s younger than Otto, but has two failing knees and severe arthritis, and her owner lacks the health insurance or budget to pay for two knee surgeries. Her declining mobility has contributed, it seems, to weight gain, which compounds her problems.

Another friend is in a similar position with Lena, Otto’s very first playmate and friend. She has had one ACL surgically repaired, and underwent “conservative management” when the second one tore; her veterinarian says her hips, too, are quite dysplastic, and would have benefitted from surgery. Both hips and both knees, too? Her very devoted owner, my friend, could not have possibly paid for four surgeries – nor could she have gotten or afforded insurance after the first knee injury and x-rays showed the hip problems. Lena is maintained on daily pain medication and various joint supplements, and my friend takes her for frequent drives to places where she can take short, gentle walks. My friend has also been shopping for some sort of wagon or cart she could use to take the 70-pound dog on walks, so she at least can enjoy the changing scenery and odors. Lena, like Chaco, is getting fairly crippled, but is in otherwise good health and appetite. How long can my friends maintain them in this condition?

How to know when to let them go

Super dedicated owners can provide hospice care for dogs, if they are physically and emotionally able and have an appropriate home and time to do so. We ran a great article about this in 2010; it holds up well today. But not everyone has a schedule and home that would permit, as just one example, helping a large non-ambulatory dog outside to potty several times a day.

Not unrelated: Between all my dog-loving friends, I am aware of exactly ONE DOG who died peacefully in his sleep.

I just went looking; here are some links for information on how to know when “the time” is right for euthanasia:

https://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/euthanasia-making-the-decision/

https://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2009/march/ten-ways-you-know-its-time-euthanize-your-pet-6745

https://www.lapoflove.com/Quality-of-Life/How-Will-I-Know-It-Is-Time

When it is getting close to time to make an appointment for euthanasia, we have some other helpful articles to read. This one is by a long-time contributor to WDJ, trainer Lisa Rodier.

Also, trainer Jill Breitner’s article on what to ask before making an appointment for euthanasia and the companion piece to that article by Dr. Sally J. Foote are excellent sources of information about what you should know in advance.

69 COMMENTS

    • Absolutely!I had a Weimaraner that was 12 years and 3 months old when I had to put her to sleep. She would fall after a couple of steps and could no longer squat to go to the bathroom without falling over. Letting go is so difficult. I literally thought I was going to die, the hurt was so excruciating. I finally resolved that it was the humane thing to do and I was keeping her alive because I did not want to hurt.lI have loved all my dogs and the hurt never really goes away, but the joy that they give me will always win. It’s too bad they don’t live as long as humans.

      • I know exactly how you feel. My 2 Yorkies died within 2 weeks of each other. We kept them alive with Saline drips for months, but in the end it was because I didn’t want to lose them.
        They were brother and sister. This was 4 years ago and it still hurts just as much today as it did when they went to the Rainbow Bridge.

  1. I don’t think you need to worry that you may be doing it too early. Why wait until your dear friend is miserable most of the time and can’t even stand up? I’d rather make the call a week too early than a week too late when he’s suffering constantly.

  2. Beau’s parents may want to consider finding a different vet. Ideally, their vet and her staff would know Beau and the family well enough to understand, guide, and support them in the decisions that have to be made.

  3. Having two dogs that were diagnosed with cancer within a two month period was a bit overwhelming. One was 13 with an inoperable tumor in his nasal cavity and we even visited with a specialist. My vet is a wonderful person who helped me with my process and cried each and every time right along with me.
    I think having a good relationship with your vet was the key for me to making the decisions when I did. Due to moving I had to find a new vet and although the one I chose was efficient I knew she wasn’t the one for me.
    I have since found another caring vet who I know will be with me in the future and help me make decisions for my 13 and 9 year old dogs.

    • Im so sorry to read about your pup and hope hes doing well. We have a 11.5 yr old Golden who was diagnosed with a nasal tumor a couple months ago. We havent gone to a specialist but our vet is pretty certain that its a nasal tumor due to her age and being a golden. Can I ask how long your pup has had it and what the symptoms are? Our Molly has bloody noses (mostly brought on by sneezing which is almost daily. She is on her 2nd round of meds that is for fungal issues which stops it but then as soon as we go off of it the bleeding starts back up. Its not bad yet but just trickles down the nose mostly all day except for when she sneezes it goes all over the floor (sorry for the grossness 🙂 and we use epinephrine for those times that are hard to stop. Any help would be appreciated as were trying to figure out where about in her sickness shes at. Probably hard to say but any info may help? Thank you

  4. Of the 5 dogs I’ve had in the past, I had to make “the decision” for them all. I am soon facing the decision again with my 11 year old Boxer whose hips are shot. It is NEVER an easy decision, and must be made with compassion for the animal above all else.

  5. With our last dog, Dilly, The last six months of his life were really dreadful. He had seizures, and they terrified HIM. He would just lie there, shaking, looking at me with desperate eyes. It broke my heart. I had been ready to euthanize him about two months before that because he was clearly having some significant pain. But my middle son, then 28, was vehemently against it. And he’s the one who lives here with me.

    My other two kids, who live elsewhere, also thought the time had come. But not Michael. The fact that Dilly could still get around, Was not incontinent, and enjoyed his meals meant to Michael that it was too soon. After many arguments and tears and the stress of living in a house that was so fractured, the other kids and I came to the conclusion that Dilly had always been willing to walk into fire for the kids, to do anything necessary to keep them safe and happy, and that if more time was what Michael needed, that would be a gift that Dilly himself would have freely chosen to give. So we put it off.

    I tried the best I could every day to keep Dilly comfortable, and we did have a number of pleasant afternoons just sitting outside and enjoying the breeze. But also increasingly more of the seizures.

    Eventually he began to have trouble walking, and then Michael was ready to say goodbye. And I know Dilly was ready to go.

    He was a great dog and I still feel guilty that we prolonged his suffering for the sake of family harmony. But I still always come to the same conclusion: that that is the choice Dilly would have wanted us to make. He was always the peacemaker, and he was particularly distressed by arguments within the family. My brave, sweet boy. I miss him so much.

    • Melissa, I understand what you’re saying, but Michael is, and always has been, one of the most generous, compassionate, hard-working, and helpful people anywhere around. I myself am confined to a wheelchair and have very little use of my hands. Michael does all the cooking, laundry, dishes, most of the pet care, as well as working a full-time job. And he was doing all that at the time that Dilly was In his last years.

      I think it was more that Dilly is the dog that we got when Michael was 15 and I had only recently become noticeably ill. Of the three kids, Michael was our rock: he stepped in and did whatever needed doing, uncomplaining and comforting all the rest of us. Dilly was there to give Michael the kind of unconditional love and support that Michael was giving all the rest of us.

      Michael grew up, moved away, and then when I needed more help at home he was the one who moved back. And Dilly was there for him every day, just being a dog who loved him. Michael doesn’t talk a lot, but he and Dilly shared many companionable silences at the end of the day When work was over and the chores were done and Michael could finally collapse on the sofa and relax.

      Yes, his resistance at the end was selfish. But I think it’s the kind of selfishness that many of us can understand, even from the most generous and compassionate people. He just wasn’t ready to face the world without Dilly, and he wanted a clearer, more direct sign that the time had come. In his mind, they had fought many battles together, and he wasn’t ready yet to give up hope for his wounded comrade.

      I hope Michael would make the decision differently with a future dog in a future situation. But I understand why things played out the way they did.

  6. We had to make the decision for our 16 year old schnauzer when he wasn’t able to stand up very well or KEEP upright. There would be times that he’d lose his footing on the linoleum and couldn’t get back up. Our vet actually came to our house to do this for us. I was concerned with our other two dogs wondering what happened to him. This was actually a beautiful ending for our perfect buddy. Our vet thankfully knows how invested we are in the health and well-being of our furry family members. They even sent us a sympathy card when we had to take our Westie-girl to the emergency ER due to a bad seizure/stroke that resulted in having to say goodbye to her. (She was already having neurological issues.) Thankfully, we feel that SHE made the decision instead of of us having to. I still miss these too. Our two current pups are now 10 and 12 and I’m dreading this part… but thankfully both are in good health and I hope this is much farther off.

  7. I think the right time will vary from person to person as well. I recently adopted a 15-year-old blind dog whose family brought her in for euthanasia because she was urinating inappropriately. She was lucky enough to cross paths with a very kind vet who worked with a wonderful shelter, and since she seemed in generally good health, convinced her family to sign her over, after which she was given antibiotics for a possible UTI and posted for adoption as a palliative case. I adopted her, finding out she was also deaf only a few days before picking her up, and we’ve been together 2 months now. Yes, she is occasionally unsteady on her feet and being blind, bumps into things, she has a wonky knee, she’s in early kidney failure, and while she does relieve herself very frequently, she is happy to use pee pads (although she thinks my area rugs are giant pee pads, but we’re working on that!). She also wags her tail when she smells me near, has a great appetite, loves sniffing the breezes outside, wandering around the backyard and rolling in good smells in the grass, sleeping next to the other dogs on the bed, and being stroked and massaged. Yes, it’s difficult to see her struggle sometimes with her physical disabilities, but I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to give her a bit more time, and I hope that when that time ends, the decision will be obvious.

    • Thank you L Hoyt!! I had one dog euthanized and it was dreadful. I have always heard when they stop eating you know its time, but I don’t know anything for sure. What I DO know is that it was THE HARDEST thing I’ve ever done and I never want to go through it again. My sweet Black Lab was 13, going blind and as she would walk around the house her poop would just fall out of her and it would humiliate her. She would look in my direction and hang her beautiful head. My sweet heart. Her breathing was bad, too. I went into the room with her and I was a complete wreck and my sweet, beautiful girl that I’d had since she was 10 weeks old tried desperately to stay with me because I was so upset and the Vet had to dose her twice. My Shadow’s ashes now have a place on the bookcase in my living room, but still, after almost 20 years, I cry thinking about that day. My current sweetheart – a 3 year old Black German Shepherd – will hopefully go in her sleep when her time comes because I will do anything and everything to help her as long as that tail wags and she can drink and eat. Much love for your dear pup.

    • Bless you for adopting a senior pup. I too adopted a 14 year old senior that was deaf and she added so much joy to my life. I also had a mother and daughter rescue pups (ages 8 and 5 years old) and my sweet Ellie fit in with them from Day 1. She was with us for 21 months, every day a blessing, and hard as it was to say goodbye to her, I never regretted adopting her.

  8. The single most helpful and comforting thing for me in making this most difficult decision was learning the actual meaning of the word “euthanasia”. The word is of Greek origin, and means “good death”. We owe our beloved and faithful companions no less. While nothing can lessen the pain and heartbreak, this understanding of the act of euthanasia brings me some small amount of comfort in the decision.

    • Love this. I was there for my two huskies and aussie’s passing back in 92. I was there for my Nash’s passing in 2013.
      I heard the term “terrible privilege” used to describe as being there when someone you loved died…and I think it’s a totally fitting description. I don’t understand people just leaving their dogs to die alone in the vets office. My babies have been there for me at my lowest…how could I even conceive of leaving them alone when they needed me most?
      How could I leave them wondering, as they left this life, where I was, if I loved them? No way on earth.

      • When my Caesar wouldn’t eat his dinner and then wouldn’t come in the house from outside, I had to go looking for him after dark and coax him in. He drank because I asked him to but then threw up. I took him to the Emergency Vet and it was 24 hours before they gave me the diagnosis of cancer. I wanted to get him then and there and bring him home so he could be euthanized in his own bed but they wouldn’t let me have him back until he ate something. The next morning I got up at 5:30 am to go get him. While I was dressing they called and told me he was fading. He was gone by the time I got there. To this day I am convinced he thought I had abandoned him and waited as long as he could for me to come get him before he couldn’t wait any longer and just gave up. I blame them for not letting me come get him the night before. It is a trauma I still live with 17 years later. Thankfully my previous dog died peacefully with me in the bed. I now have a 9 month old puppy and will make sure that no one will prevent me from doing what *I* think is best for her.

    • I just hat talk of ‘putting down’ a beloved pet….that negates the whole relationship .Like you say , the word is euthanasia , good death, and it is the great ,unselfish gift of love and thanks our pets deserve…

  9. I appreciated all of the comments posted for this. Peace be with you. If your beloved companions could communicate with you now, I am sure they would say “thank you for a wonderful life; I had a great time.”

  10. I’m a staunch believer that “they will let you know” . The problem is hearing them, or in my case, getting the rest of the family to respect it.
    My dog Nash lived to a ripe old age of 16…not bad for a large mutt rescued at the age of three from the SPCA.
    And if he hadn’t contracted bone cancer, I think he would have lived longer.
    He was diagnosed in the fall of 2012. Started to fail in spring of 2013. Lost his appetite, control of his bladder, had very little bowel movements. In May, he walked up to me (he was very much a Mommy’s boy) and gave me that look….and I knew. The battle was my husband. Ours is a second marriage, and Nash was the first “baby” we had together, adopted in January of 2000. My husband is a redneck headbanger, raised on a farm until he was 10. Dogs were kept outside, and while he considered them companions, he didn’t really understand the concept of them being truly “family”. Until me. Nash was kept inside, and went everywhere we (especially I) did. He helped bring groceries in–would stand by the car and we’d put light bags around his neck. He’d go inside, we’d remove the bag, he’d go back out. He slept with us. And my husband learned what it was to truly HAVE a dog, and what it was like to be LOVED by a dog.
    So, when I told him I thought it was time Nash crossed the bridge, my DH balked. And Nash didn’t help. He could tell DH was worried, so Nash would act like his old self when DH was there–bouncy, playful, happy. My DH FINALLY got it when, on Thanksgiving 2013, we got home from family dinner, went outside to let Nash in, and found him on the patio. I called his name a couple times, and knelt down next to him. I really thought he was dead–he was so still, and I couldn’t detect his breathing. I started freaking out, and finally Nash woke up. He tried to stand up, and stumbled. That’s when my husband finally understood.
    We sent Nash across the bridge on December 27, 2013. That was the second time I saw my husband cry…and I mean ugly cry…and I haven’t seen him cry like that since.
    We have another rescue, Brutus, a full bred Rottie, who’s 9 or 10; we got him in 2013. He’s got bad hip dysplasia, and is starting to fail. We already had one scare with him last year– he contracted a skin stap infection, lost a LOT of hair, and a LOT of weight. When we took him to the vet my husband told me flat out..”I’m not going through that hell again. If we have to put him down, I’ll have to wait outside.” Brutus recovered, but at the beginning of this summer, he started to slow way down. And he’s so laid back, so chill, so aloof, it’s hard to read him. He’s not, and never has been, as expressive as Nash was…not like our other two, either, they’re open books, very communicative.
    Brut? He’s the very strong, silent type. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood..you know, stoic.
    But, like Nash, he’s is definitely a momma’s boy, so it will be up to me to receive his message when he sends it. I just hope I’ll be able to understand it as clearly as I did Nash’s.

  11. Sounds like Beau has dog dementia. Yes, its a real thing. Dogdementia.com has great info. The last dog of my pack is 13 & between the weight , hearing & eye sight loss, plus the dementia onset, it is hard to decide what to do.

    She eats, walks long distances etc but some days are hard…

    I plan to ease her suffering based on HER quality of life, not my need to have her here. & daily ask the Lord to take her in her sleep…

  12. I gave my 12 year old female Akita BPC-157 injections, she has degenerative myelopathy and arthritis and had a tendon injury, this was in December of 2018 when it seemed I was going to lose her. I am happy to report my dog is 100% better and is able to hike and is no longer falling or tripping and almost no foot dragging as her myelin sheath has regenerated. I also give her Boswellia and msm for her arthritis. My dog’s Instagram page is shibuakita. I also recently got a male Akita puppy. Both dogs are on meat and vegetable diets with supplements. Shibu will be 13 in December and she looks beautiful, you cannot tell she is that old or has a fatal illness.

    • Hi, I know this thread is a few years old but I was intrigued when I saw your mention of bcp 157. I tried to look up shibuakita on Instagram to reach out there but was not able to find any account… anyways I wanted to reach out and see If I could ask you a few questions about using bcp for your pup. I was curious if you were able to find a vet to help you or was this something you went about more on your own? I have a dog who had 2 knee surgeries and am wond3ring about using bcp157 possibly down the road if he/when he might develop arthritis. Anyways hopefully you see this as I love to hear about your experience with your pup as I haven’t been able to find much out there on peptides for our dogs. Really hope this message gets to you and we can chat. Thanks so much.

  13. When asking this question before, our vet and good friend said to pick at 4-5 things the dog was known for loving. If they are no longer interested in those things, the time is near. They are no longer enjoying the life they live and may still be holding on because they know WE still need THEM. I have 2 who are 13. I know the time is not too far out. I love on them daily and tell them, on their struggle days, to go when they want to go. Thanks for the read and providing other articles!

  14. I’ve had to have 3 of my babies euthanized and it never gets easier. The first, Flex, was a 14 year old Rottie mix with severe arthritis and steroid induced Cushings. He was having a wonderful day on the day we said goodbye, and I’m forever grateful for that. His bad days were far outnumbering the good and we knew it was time. Sonia, my 8 year old Rottie was in wonderful shape and so full of life. We left the dog park after a fun day of swimming and within hours she started losing the use of her front leg. The paralysis spread and her thyroid stopped working. The vet suspect a toxin in the lake, but my other dog was fine. We fought hard for her, and she started improving but then her organs started failing. It wasn’t a peaceful euthanasia as she hated drugs. It was the hardest goodbye ever. Well, maybe. I say that because my youngest, Coot ( Kujo) was diagnosed with congenital k