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How to Know When to Put a Dying Pet to Sleep

Updated on December 14, 2020
doodlebugs profile image

My wife and I have been lucky enough to have more than a dozen older rescue dogs and its is never easy to know then to let them go.

How to know when to euthanize a pet

It can be the most agonizing decision that you will ever make when it comes to your pet. Knowing when to say a final goodbye and allow the vet to euthanize a beloved pet can be extremely hard, to say the least.

If your pet is suffering from a chronic condition that is causing them extreme pain, such as cancerous tumor, or liver or kidney failure it is often more humane to put them "to sleep" as it is so euphemistically called.

If you can imagine the kind of pain that your pet may be feeling you know in your heart this might be the right thing to do. Unlike a terminally ill person, your pet does not fully know what it is that is happening to them. Other than calm words and a gentle touch, your pet cannot be told things that make the pain more bearable. You can give your love to them but even their disposition, which has always been pleasant may change. Their behavior may even start to become aggressive, especially if a disease such as cancer is beginning to affect their brain.

Even if you still feel a strong bond with your pet and feel that they respond to your affection, there may be little you can do about their pain since medication can only do so much.

While veterinary pain killers can be quite strong and even in some cases more effective than those for humans, this is no way for a dog or cat to have long term quality of life, especially if they are unable to do the kind of things that have always brought them pleasure.

At this stage of life it may be more humane to choose euthanasia, rather than allow them to keep feeling the pain and confusion they are dealing with every day. At the point your pet can no longer walk on their own, potty without help or enjoy the world around them, their quality of life has gone and they are merely existing.

If this is the case it might be a selfish act to allow them to feel so much pain, simply to have them around for your own emotional needs.

Veterinarians now have drug combinations that work quickly, without pain and which can allow your beloved pet to leave this world and the pain behind without prolonged suffering. While the process itself is quick and painless, the decision process leading up to it can be one of the hardest things you've ever done in your life.

Veterinarians that offer these services also, in most cases, offer counseling before and after for owners. Before making the decision think about it, consult with your spouse and have a talk with your children, as hard as it may be. In the end, euthanasia may be the kindest choice you can make for your dog or cat.

The more people that you consult with, the better able you will be to make a good decision. Don't ever be afraid of hurting your vet's feelings by getting a second opinion, most would welcome it. Having the opinion of another qualified vet can make the decision to pet your pet to sleep less difficult.

Finding Comfort Afterwards

You will need the support of friends and family after putting your pet to sleep. Afterward is definitely not the time to be alone so seek out the comfort of friends and family to help you with the grieving process.

Books such as "Chicken Soup For The Animal Lovers Soul" can help you through the grieving process, however no book can ever make all of the pain of losing a beloved family pet.

My wife and have adopted and raised nearly a dozen rescue dogs over the past 20 years and unfortunately we've had to make this difficult decision more than once. In each case, we have struggled both before and after with our decision, even know we know in our hearts that it was the best thing to have done.

Some say "you'll know when it's time" and sometimes that's true. In each instance, before making that hardest of decisions, we've noticed a change in our pet, such as the look in their eyes that was always there being gone, or some other indicator that their joy has left them and that they are just hanging on, sometimes only for the sake of their humans. It's not easy and it never will be, but in many cases you will just know. I hope this article helps give those of you in such a difficult position some things to consider, however the decision must ultimately come from within, as you know in your heart that "it's time".

Comments

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  • doodlebugs profile imageAUTHOR

    Nolen Hart 

    9 years ago from Southwest

    Jeff, I would consult your vet. He or she may be able to tell you what level of pain your dog is experiencing. In many cases they can give your pet pain meds which will improve their quality of life while they are with you.

  • profile image

    Jeff 

    9 years ago

    I have a yellow lab that is 11 years old. He was diagnosed with hip dysplagia when he was only a year old, but with Glucosamine condroitin he was able to last this long. My question I guess, is how can you tell if your pet is in any pain from a disease or cancer. My dog has a few areas that feel like "growths" but he still eats regularly and wags his tail when I come home. Recently he has been having trouble getting up (on tile floors), and last night he had an accident in the house. Please help because I do not want to make the wrong decision. Thanks.

  • profile image

    Wendi 

    9 years ago

    Thank you for your support my Dog Popeye was 17 and had to put her to rest tonight the HARDEST thing my family had to do!! She lost all feeling in her behind legs and could not walk for three days tried so hard with a bit of harness and TLC then was wondering am i doing this for her or me! Did not want her to go she was my little girl! the VNA was wonderful as they can be in this situation good luck and god bless you my little girl love and will allways miss u everyday Walk by myself now babe :(

  • profile image

    billy 

    9 years ago

    I just had to put my baby cat to sleep he wad diagnosed with the leukimia aids and nasty ulcer two weeks ago.spent a week at the hospital. Don't want to put him down yet i brought him home and nurse him for a week until hoping that he will get better.and refuse to put him to sleep but in a werk at my care he get no betyer.my hard decision is to put him to sleep i cry break my heart but couldn't see him in such a pain.the only thing i felt guilty i didn't look after him very good i should sleep with him in last week he with me but i didn't. I hope hes forgive me.i love you billy one day we will be togeyhet ahain n i promisr to look after you wrll.

  • profile image

    JJ 

    10 years ago

    my **Kootawn** my kitty she was dyeing last night and i had to make the worst discison ever...she was passing right infront of me which only made this worst cause i had no clue what was wrong with her... this was my baby literally i bottle fed her since the day she was born and was there till the night she got put down i couldn't stand to see her such agony:(

    i would never put costs befor the health of my babies im still crying infact but i know that she would want the same thing.

    if your pet isn't at all at its best you should bring then to a vet don't let it pass like I did or you will be the one to be sad in the end

  • profile image

    10 years ago

    i can use some help on making a really hard decision. my cat was recently diagnosed with epilepsy and hyperthyroidism. he is on medication that is not helping. i've put out a lot of money for him and wish i could aford to do more, but i can't. he is only 3 years old and i am at a lose.

  • profile image

    Jenny 

    10 years ago

    The kindest thing you can do for any pet you love is not to let them suffer, its the most loving selfless thing to do for them , no matter how hard it it . keeping them alive when they are suffering is only for us because we don't want to be without them, but to leave them to suffer is slefish and unkind. We have had to have our lovely 10 year old westie to sleep today due to aggressive cancer, if they don't have quality of life there is no live for them

  • profile image

    JoeJoe 

    10 years ago

    My Tommy whom I had for 17 years was diagnosed with feline lymphoma about two weeks ago. He was my best friend and companion. He was my reason for coming home. He had stopped eating his dry food all together and was only eating about half of his wet food which I called "the good stuff". When I would ask him if he wanted the good stuff he would come running and with his paws would reach up at me and beg. I called another vet for a second opinion on the blood work and he also said cancer. I asked the vet to give him fluids subcutaniously, a shot of B-12, and a shot of steroids then I took him home. He started eating his food again the next day, but I knew what was going to have to be done. I sat up with him at night and he was feeling very well, he would jump up on my lap and stretch out and sleep. A few days of that and he started hiding again and not eating much. I'm a United State Air Force veteran and I'm 49 years old, I cried in the shower, I cried while doing dishes, and every time I thought about what was to be. I'm crying now, yesterday was the hardest day of my life. I dug a grave in my back yard. I had the vet come to my house, I couldn't be there. I have a wonderfull Mom who said she would meet the vet. I said goodby, kissed him, told him to be a good boy and left. I drove around in the country for a few hours aimlessly. My Mom called me and told me that his passing was very peacefull and that Tom would not have to suffer. I think that knowing Tom would not have to suffer is about the only way I can go on. I also think doing what I did for him was the ultimate act of love. Run and play now Tom Tom, be a good boy...

  • profile image

    KaiNailei 

    10 years ago

    I took my cat Baby Puss in last week for a dental since I thought his crying and screaming when he atempted to eat was due to possibly a cracked tooth. When the vet was preping him for his dental she found a mass in his right lower cheek. It turned out to be cancer of the salivary gland. He had seen the vet in March 2010. At that time all his bloodwork was normal and all the other tests were normal or unremarkable.

    Such a surprise, this is really breaking my heart. I have had Baby Puss for almost 18 years. He has been my buddy and i can't even think about putting him to sleep without crying. I know I will have to make this very hard decision soon. He is having a hard time eating. If his food is not liquified, he howls and backs away from his food. I cannot watch him suffer or starve to death. I have to keep thinking I am doing the right thing to end his suffering. I will forever miss him. I love him very much.

    NaileiKai

  • profile image

    marie 

    10 years ago

    i had a minature dashund for nine years,,always happy even after going thru knee surgery later on back herination disc..this left her trying so hard to walk then she would tire and scoot on her left side a lot causing problems with her unrine but she only ate boiled chicken breast and a few treats..i put her to sleep on april 8th,2010.i cry and cry because i was almost paralyzed myself.the vet gave us a 90% of a good outcome after paying 2to 3,000 dollars.she was my baby for Godsakes.i miss her so much and even ? my putting her to sleep ,but so manypeople push,pushed even my husband..he regreted the lie from the vet surgeon just for the money and no good results,but her and i bonded soooooo because we had some common thoughts and feelings if i could redo i would have kept her alive because she play ,love and knew our little rountines we had to do with each other..i cry every day just wanting to put her to bed at nite....i regret marie

  • profile image

    angie 

    10 years ago

    Hi iam 2 in that position at present and it breaking my heart, i feel iam keeping my wee baby alive thru totally selfish reasos, but do ot want 2 lose him

  • profile image

    Nancy 

    10 years ago

    our golen retriever of 14 years has beenthe best friend i have ever ha. He was diagnosed with a tumor behind his eye about 6 months ago, Today when Iawoke he was bleeding from the nose and eye, I kep hoping every day that he will get better

  • profile image

    Lesleigh 

    11 years ago

    Thank you for the article. I think I have to put my cat asleep soon-she's urinating over the house because she can no longer keep control of herself. She's also having trouble getting up and over the stairs now. Your article is very helpful for me, especially since she's been mine since I was 11 years old.

    Its just very hard to make the final decision

  • ThePartyAnimal profile image

    ThePartyAnimal 

    11 years ago

    My 15 year old cat was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cancer under his tongue on December 21st. It is in the late stages and I feel as though I need to make a decision to end the pain. It will only get worse and I do not want to see him continue to suffer. It all seems to have come on so fast and he was always my tough guy. I am a huge pet lover and he is one of my kids, but I am leaning towards freeing him. You Hub was so well written - obviously I am toying with my decision and that is how I ended up here. I think it will be one of the hardest things I have had to do in a very long time, but I need to keep telling myself I am doing the right thing. This part of being a pet owner really stinks!!!

  • profile image

    Lara 

    11 years ago

    My heart breaks for all of you...I am going through it as I type this. Gus is 14, Hyperthyroid w/ possible CRF. Jakers 1234...Im living exactly what you went through. I am suppose to leave for vacation in three days and my little buddy is not eating, hiding...I know the day is drawing near. Its dreadful to have to "play god" and make the decision as to how much suffering is enough.

  • profile image

    Jakers1234 

    11 years ago

    I just joined today. This is for ACURARACERGIRL. I know just what you are going through. We had to put our cat, Jake, to sleep just 2 weeks ago. He was 15. This winter, we noticed that he started drinking a lot more water and he started losing weight. I knew right away it was his kidneys. We took him to the vet, and when we got the results, it was not good news. His kidneys were in very bad shape, his heart and liver were starting to fail. But, he still seemed happy and loved to still go outside and chase birds and snuggle with us. We decided on home treatment. Medication, IV fluids, special foods, etc. He did very well for a few months and gained some weight back. Then, sadly, it started all over again, and I knew it was the beginning of the end. We kept up with all of the treatments, but soon he was losing a lot of weight again, not eating and started having some odd behavior. He would lay and sleep in places he never did before (like on a kitchen chair) and when we would go to move him, he would jump out of our arms and run right back to the chair. He also started "hiding" sometimes. He would sleep under beds and did not want to be bothered. He started to detach from all of us, mostly me. He would still go outside, but he would spend longer and longer times outside and he didn't want to come inside. He started to act like he didn't know his own home anymore, or us. I knew it was time when he started to lose his bladder all over the house (which he had never done before) and would howl horribly as he would do it. One day I let him out and he didn't come back. I finally found him in a yard a few houses up. He was so skinny, looked so sick and lost, I knew I had to let him go. I know he would have kept on for us, but I could no longer put him through all the treatments and which to me was now clear....he was suffering. Cats are different from people in that they often don't know what is happening to them. They also have a high threshold of pain. No one can tell you what you should do. Even though I know we did the right thing, (I talked to 5 different vets), I still feel guilty. I think that is something that will happen to anyone who has to put an animal to sleep, even if it was very much the right thing to do. I know what you mean about her being like your child. That is how I felt about my Jake. I still cry all the time and feel so odd and out of sorts. Luckily, most people have been so supportive because they have animals themselves, but, I have had people say to me "geez....it was just a cat!" Some people just can't understand the bond between a pet and it's human. I hope so much all goes well for you. Hope to hear how you and your cat are doing. All my best wishes!

  • ACURARACERGIRL profile image

    ACURARACERGIRL 

    11 years ago from Aurora, Colorado

    Hello, I just joined. My 6 year old Himalayan Persian baby girl Dominique was diagnosed with PKD 2 weeks ago. She spent about a week in the hospital and wasn't expected to survive through last week. She is my baby girl. I talk to her and she responds, she knows her name and commands. She sleeps with me every night. She follows me everywhere in the house. I expected her to be around for another 10 years. Her kidneys are failing quickly. If I had the money, I would get a kidney transplant for her. She is on numerous meds, i.v. fluids, special food which she stopped eating, so now I give her chicken or tuna. Today she went blind. My heart is breaking. I don't want to lose her. I love her so much. She is my little sidekick. I am faced with the decision to put her down before she suffers anymore. I can't do it. I can't put her in the car and drive her to the vet to have her murdered. this is hard enough without this decision. I am here alone, no family. I can't have kids, so she is my kid. There has to be some type of advice or support for this situation. I can't take watching her suffer, but I don't want to lose her. Thank you for listening. Lori www.myspace.com/acuraracergirl

  • profile image

    Lori Davis 

    11 years ago

    Hello,

    My 6 year old Himalayan Persian baby girl Dominique was diagnosed with PKD 2 weeks ago. She spent about a week in the hospital and wasn't expected to survive through last week. She is my baby girl. I talk to her and she responds, she knows her name and commands. She sleeps with me every night. She follows me everywhere in the house. I expected her to be around for another 10 years. Her kidneys are failing quickly. If I had the money, I would get a kidney transplant for her. She is on numerous meds, i.v. fluids, special food which she stopped eating, so now I give her chicken or tuna. Today she went blind. My heart is breaking. I don't want to lose her. I love her so much. She is my little sidekick. I am faced with the decision to put her down before she suffers anymore. I can't do it. I can't put her in the car and drive her to the vet to have her murdered. this is hard enough without this decision. I am here alone, no family. I can't have kids, so she is my kid. There has to be some type of advice or support for this situation. I can't take watching her suffer, but I don't want to lose her. Thank you for listening.

    Lori

    www.myspace.com/acuraracergirl

  • profile image

    doodlebugs 

    11 years ago

    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. That kind of love is hard to find. Try to remember those best times more than the end of his life. May your heart begin to heal soon.

  • profile image

    Ron Hora 

    11 years ago

    I had to put my Elvis to sleep, He was a good boy. He was by my side all the time, going to store, taking a ride in the truck, etc . I cant stop crying over the loss of him, you don't know until it happens. the closenest between you and your pet. I AM alone , windowed and Elvis was my buddie. I Had him for 8 Years and miss him dearly, And i am 76 and cant stop crying over him.

  • profile image

    Ron Hora 

    11 years ago

    I had to put my Elvis to sleep, He was a good boy. He was by my side all the time, going to store, taking a ride in the truck, etc . I cant stop crying over the loss of him, you don't know until it happens. the closenest between you and your pet. I AM alone , windowed and Elvis was my buddie. I Had him for 8 Years and miss him dearly, And i am 76 and cant stop crying over him.

  • profile image

    sam 

    11 years ago

    It is very good that you have your husband to support you. Don't worry that your pet will think you did something to them, their suffering will be alleviated and they will have a chance to go on to the afterlife ( i do belive there is one for pets too) in peace.

  • profile image

    Molly's Mom 

    11 years ago

    I too am trying to make the decision. Also, when I do .. I don't know if I could handle being there. I read where if you know you are going to cry maybe you shouldn't be there since it may upset your pet. My Husband will definitley be there, I just seriously do not know if I can handle it. But am so afraid my baby will die thinking I abandoned her. Please, any input is desparatley needed.

  • solitaire profile image

    solitaire 

    12 years ago from Afloat

    Thanks for the article Doodle - we are trying to make that tough decision right now.

  • doodlebugs profile imageAUTHOR

    Nolen Hart 

    12 years ago from Southwest

    I'm sorry to hear about your cat. It is worse when there is nothing leading up to it.

  • moonlake profile image

    moonlake 

    12 years ago from America

    Our cat died tonight. We are still in shock he had not been sick. My husband found him he was still warm and had no marks on him we just really don't know what happened. We both cried like babies and believe me I have never seen my husband cry over a pet.

    We have had to put many pets down over the years and it is never easy. We try never to let them live in pain because like you said they don't know what is wrong with them.

    Good hub.

  • doodlebugs profile imageAUTHOR

    Nolen Hart 

    12 years ago from Southwest

    Debbie, I'm so sorry to hear that. Our standard poodle had terminal cancer as well and his pain just got worse but our vet put him on a strong pain medication. Ask you vet for this, he will give your dog a prescription for pain medication that will as least make his last days more comfortable even if you decide not to put him to sleep. My heart goes out to you. good luck

  • profile image

    debbie 

    12 years ago

    my dog has terminal cancer and it is all over him, my husband can't see the pain he is in I tell him yet he does nothing he said it is just his hip or just his leg, he looks at me with such sadness in his eyes.My husband is angry with the Vet for the news he gave us so he wont take him back to him at all. Tell me what to do how can I make my dog have less pain I cry every day sometimes all day. I hate this it is breaking my heart I love him so much, he is a wonderful dog. Maybe I should put him to sleep but I don't even know where to begin I can't even imagine how, or even if I can . The thought even makes me feel guilty. Can someone give me advise. I am so Sad. And my big old baby Rotti is suffering .

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