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Decide When to Put Your Dog to Sleep - Putting a Dog Down

Updated on March 12, 2012
Whitney05 profile image

Whitney has over 10 years of experience in dog training, rescuing and dog healthcare.

Elderly Dogs

It is one of the hardest decisions that pet owners can make- when is the right time to put your dog (or other pet) to sleep. Because our dogs become part of the family, when they start to age and show signs of age, it can be very hard to decide when it is time to let them go.

If you have an elderly dog, you are probably taking all precautions already to caring for your older dog, but if you need a little help, you can check out Caring for an Elderly and Aging Dog for more tips for caring for an elderly dog.

It is a very hard decision to make, especially since out dogs become part of the family. We play with them, exercise them, train them, feed them, and in many cases sleep with them. Face it, we spend A LOT of time with our dogs, so when the time comes when you notice that you older dog just doesn’t have the same spunk as he used to, it may be time to start thinking about the one subject that no dog owner wants to touch until the last minute…


My grandparent's dog who was just recently put to sleep at 12 yrs old. He was having frequent seizures and lost control of his back hips.
My grandparent's dog who was just recently put to sleep at 12 yrs old. He was having frequent seizures and lost control of his back hips.

Thinking about putting your dog to sleep

If you think about your dog’s wants and wellbeing, ask yourself what does he want?

The answer is actually pretty simple. Your dog wants fun, love, attention, and good health… That means no pain or suffering… Which is pretty much what we want ourselves.

When your dog's quality of life suffers, then you should start thinking about what you're going to do.

There is no set time or limit or one-for-all decision that everyone can make as to when to put the dog to sleep. It is by individual situation and opinion as to when that time is. So, I cannot tell you that today is the day that you put your 13 year old dog to sleep just because he’s 13 because what if he still runs around and barks at strangers and begs to be pet and loved on? Now, that doesn’t sound like a dog that is ready to be put down.

But, we all know when it is time. It is just something that we do not want to have to face when it is that time.

How is it done?

Euthanasia is a very simple and pain free process. You can opt to have your dog put to sleep at the vet, or in many cases, the vet will be willing to come to your home to do it in your dog’s surroundings.

Most vet’s give the dog a shot of barbiturate, or another sedative, to relax the dog and put him unconscious, and then the vet or vet tech will give the dog another shot to actually put the dog to sleep and to stop his heart.

Not all dogs react the same. You will find that dogs with poor circulation may take a little long for the drugs to take into effect, and with some dogs, it may take a little longer for the muscle twitches to stop. In these cases, do not be alarmed or upset thinking that you have made the wrong choice. You dog is not fighting to stay alive, he is already fully unconscious.

Dealing with the grief of putting your dog to sleep

When dealing with the grief of losing a pet, there are many different means of coping. A few tips can include the following:

  • If you know that your older dog is going to need to be put to sleep in the near future, go ahead and get another puppy. This will help you with the emotional pain when your older dog is gone.
  • Go ahead and make plans, as to when you will put your dog to sleep (if you know that he is getting worse), where you will put your dog to sleep (the vet or at home), and what you will do with his body (leave at the vet, bury, cremation, etc). This will help with the coping process, having everything pre-planned
  • Have someone go with you when you take the dog to the vet, or have someone with you when the vet comes to your home, so that you have someone that you can be with during and after the process.
  • And, when the vet or vet tech is preparing your dog, just be with him. Hold him, stroke him, talk to him. This will help you and it will calm him.

If you want more tips, you can check out this hub about Dealing With The Loss of A Pet

Putting Your Dog Down

Many people want to let God take over and decide when is the right time to let the dog pass on, but if you think about it, we have already pretended to be God by preventing all sorts of “natural” diseases and illnesses with regular shots, pills, and other medications. So is it fair to let out beloved pets live in possible pain and agony while we wait for God to take over?

I am not saying that everyone should go out and put their dog to sleep at the first sign of old age, but I believe that there is a point in every dog’s life that if he is suffering, it’s time to let him go.

You don’t want to keep the dog alive and in pain for your own benefit and selfishness. You want to think of what lifestyle your dog is currently having. If he is not happy, sick, and suffering, I’m sorry to be blunt, but it’s time…

If it helps, consider at-home euthanasia.


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      Sarah 2 years ago

      Thank you everyone for sharing your stories, Im putting down my 6yr old black lab who has cancer, and reading all this helped :)

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      Rebecca 2 years ago

      Just beginning my journey of dealing with my grief of putting our beloved Golden, Sally to rest yesterday. She was 13 and had battled bladder cancer for the last year. Within the last week her quality of life decreased rapidly. She would rarely drink, began dripping blood enough so she had to wear diapers, slept most of day, no longer got up to greet guests, but the deciding factor came when I was having to give her 3 painkillers and she would still be groaning in pain. It tore me apart to be in the position to play "God" and I prayed God would take her peacefully one night.. But with every groan I knew I could not put her through another day. I was always told I would know through her eyes.. I am not sure I knew or possibly my selfishness of not wanting to let her go got in the way. She was so much part of our family and was loved by everyone who knew her. I called my boys in from college and with my husband, 3 children, and my sister we gave our final farewells. She went with her head resting on my leg on her favorite bed, with her favorite toy, and surrounded by all those who loved her. I never imagined how deep the pain would feel and that I could cry this much. We were so blessed with her presence, and she gave our family so much love. Rest in Peace Sally and I am sure you will find plenty of squirrels to chase when you get to the Rainbow Bridge.

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      Lutzie's mama 2 years ago

      My Maltese is almost 13 which is very old for a small dog. He recently came back from a boarding visit appearing unsteady and weak. The next day he wouldn't stand at all. But his appetite is good and he scoots himself to the pad to pee and then back to his pillow. His eyes still light up when he sees us and he tries to wag his tail. It breaks my heart to see it. His tongue hangs out of the side of his mouth because he apparently doesn't have any teeth left to hold it in. It's comical looking and doesn't seem to bother him. This morning he actually stood and wobbled outside and back in but that was the extent of his energy. I don't think he is in pain. There is no whining or crying. How can I know for sure? How long do we allow this to go on?

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      Herman 3 years ago

      Our Gordon Setter of 10 years is losing her battle with MAST cell tumors. she has had two surgeries including her tail being amputated. Her tumor came back in Februray of this year and we treated it with steroids and anit-histime hoping we could have the summer with her, but alas Thursday she sprained her front paw, and it has been downhill since, and I'm coming to the reality that her days are numbered. We will have one more weekend with her and take her to the vet to have her examined and have the vet say it's hopeless and have her pass on to the Rainbow Bridge. We love you Raven always and always you have been a great dog and one of the best souls I have ever meet in my life. If only people were that loyal.

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      Mike 3 years ago

      Sammy, our 9 year old Golden retriever was diagnosed with a Mast Cell tumor, grade 3, a very aggressive cancer, the tumor was on his scrotum, so we had the tumor removed, and was told they had gotten all of it, however, within weeks of the surgery, the cancer came back with a vengeance, creating nodules all over his body, a large mass has formed in his stomach area and he has started showing signs of being discomfortable… but not in pain….I'm confused, I'm not sure if I should put him down now, or wait… The vet told me there is no cure for the type of cancer he has….so I know he's not going to get any better…. I love him so much…. What a kick in the gut this has been…..I don't think he'll live past this weekend….

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      Coleen 3 years ago

      I just had to put my dog down this morning. Her name was Molly and she was a 13 year old Golden Retrieiver. She was the sweetest girl and followed me everywhere and slept with me every night. A few days ago she was fine and then got sick and did not eat or drink for a couple of days. We took her to the vet and they said she had cancer in the spleen and liver. I took her home and was deciding what to do. Then this morning she still did not drink or eat and could not even walk. Right then, I knew it was time. I cried like a baby and hugged and kissed her until my husband took her to the vet to see what the prognosis was. My husband called me and put the doctor on the phone to go over the ultrasound they did on her and she told me how bad it was. Then I had to make that final decision. It was the most hardest thing to go through. I have been crying all day and do not want to go home and see all of her toys and food bowl and tonight I will be sleeping alone without her. This is going to be a hard one to get over, but I do not regret putting her down because she was suffering. She will always be in my heart.

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      Steve 3 years ago

      After putting my Daisy down the other day, I made my mind no more dog. It hurts. I still cry now and then when I think of her. It's still hard for me to get to sleep at night. I don't want to go through that again.

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      Shadow :'( 3 years ago

      On Monday I was put in the position to make the hardest decision I hope to ever have to make. My sister moved out of her house and left their family pet Shadow behind. I went a picked her up and took her in. Shadow has been a part of their family for 13 years. I've had her for almost 2 years now and over the last few months her health has been deteriorating. She had huge tumors that were spreading along the bottom of her stomach and barely walked. Her breathing was really hard and labored. It was hard for her to get up and when she did, she would stand around for hours because it hurt to lay back down. I've given my sister and her family every opportunity to be a part of her last few days and let them know she was suffering and it was time but they needed to be the one to make that decision. They never did return my calls and Monday I made the decision it was time. I am feeling so guilty right now, the pain is unbearable for me. They are harrassing me and threatening. Did I make the right decision??????? The vet tech said she was ready, but was she really?

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      Nonni 3 years ago

      Sammy is our first family pet to have been part of our family for 12 years. He has been a loyal protector, at times barking until the stranger finally left the surroundings. He would act like he was going to tear someone apart. Of course, he never did!!!! He just wanted to protect and alert everyone that there was someone who wasn't part of the pack nearby. Our Sammy is a beautiful white lab who was adopted by my husband, two kids, and myself. He had Kennel Cough when we got him home in the next couple of days. I thought of returning him, but realized he would not be cared for in the way he needed. So we kept him, doctored him, trained him, played and walked him, feed and loved him! Through the years he always had a cough that remained but always was able to get it under control.....his lungs were his weak area you see. The past six weeks I've been home for summer vacation spending time nursing him in hopes he would breathe better, and cough less. With many visits to our vet and four different medications, its time......he is suffering!!!!! He looks me in the eyes telling me, Mom I can't catch by breathe just put your hand on me and I will feel better......that doesn't do it anymore I'm afraid. I can't do anything else to help him breathe easier. All I can do is continue to love and care for him which means put Sammy to sleep. He will always be remembered and in our hearts .......peace be with you boy, we all have loved you and thank you for protecting us, you've been so gentle with the babies, they and Grammy will miss you as well. We love you Sammy!!!

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      Lee Murray 4 years ago

      Sam our beloved bassette hounder is fourteen and sleeps a lot. Pees on he rug now. He still is our watch/clock. Still has an appetite. Loves roasted chicken and the bones. We've had him since was five and a half. Being retired we both have been with him dailey except for errands and appointments.

      Those big brown eyes and Hush Puppy look says, "Everythings okay, isn't it Daddy?

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      Susan 4 years ago

      Our lab Larry is 15 and half years old......cannot get around walking much but goes in the yard twice a day to do his business.......makes sure he goes to bed in our room when I go to bed and eats like a pig.......Our terrier Gracie is 12 and a half years old and we had part of her jaw removed in February but the cancer is back and getting larger below her ear and she eats well and walks around well but sleeps so much that we know the time is coming as heart is aching and I cry as I right this........both!.......

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      Robby 4 years ago

      Yesterday my wife and I took our Golden Retiever Holly to be put to rest. She was 13 and could no longer walk. Holly was my baby girl, she brought us so much love. We took the last appointment they had. It was so hard watching the went so fast yesterday. I carried her onto the front lawn and many neighbors and children who knew her came to say goodbye to her. It was so hard to pull the car up and finally pick her up and put her in, I forced myself not to cry as I wanted to stay strong for my wife. The drive to the vet was long and I was still fighting back the tears. When I finally got to the vet and went to take her out of the car, I lost it. I just couldn't do it. The staff at the vet office was very compasionate and helped get her in. It went quick and she was gone, we stayed in the room with her for about a half hour and cried. I know it will get eaier in the months to come, but I can't quit looking at the last picture I took of hr while she was laying on the grass.

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      lauretta 4 years ago

      My golden retriever Bailey is scheduled to be put to sleep tomorrow afternoon. She is 16, almost blind, quite deaf, has severe arthritis, and advanced kidney disease. Her breath is very labored. She sleeps 20 hours a day now but seems responsive and even happy during the time she is awake. I don't want to wait until the bitter end when she can't eat or walk, or she slips into a coma or starves to death from the kidney disease. She is a cherished part of my family and she deserves a calm, peaceful passing. I have cried about this for a week since making the appointment, but have come to terms with it. It is my last duty for her.

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      Katie 4 years ago

      My dog Jack was 13 and had diabetes, having to have two insulin shots a day. It was always up and down, and his thirst seemed to never be queneched. I could no longer allow him to roam free in the house during the day when I was at work. He had to wear pampers during the day in my absence and would pee in them. At night he would keep me up trying to get into the bathroom to drink from the toilet because he had drank all his water. He had to go into the vet to be "regulated" on a egular basis. After my divorce and sale of myhouse, I decided that it was time to put him to sleep. He was still relatively peppy and lively. But it was time for him to go. I didn't want to wait until he was barely walking to put him to sellp. Hardest thing I ever did. I stayed with him until the end, took him home, dug his grave and buried him next to his brother Emmett. Wrorst day ever.

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      BRANDI LOVING BOSS 4 years ago

      I have an 8 year old rit nose pitbull that i am having put to sleep in the morning. It's a very painful decision for me and my family. He had gotten heartworms we doing everything to try to save her which costed us a lot of money. But i lovely Boss has gotten worse he has went blind in both eyes. He has lost a lot of weight and steady going in and out the hospital. We have had some good times with our "Boss" we will always love you and oneday we will seee u again no more suffering and pain.. WE LOVE YOU BOSS!! PITBULL SOMETIME HAVE A BAD REPTUTATION, BUT BOSS U HAVE PROVE THEM WRONG!! YOU WERE SO WARM LOVING AND CARING ALWAYS HAD UR TAIL WAGGING AND READY TO WALK AND PLAY!!!

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      Ariss828 4 years ago

      In an hour I am bringing my 17 year old lab named Murphy to the vet to finally be at rest, I needed to hear these stories to make it not so hard, he has cancer. it will be hard not to hear his heavy breathing while we eat supper or having to pick up the trashbags that he always finds and rips open, but I know we have to let him be at peace. I love you Murph

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      Patrick 4 years ago

      I lost my Charlie two days ago. I rescued him with a rare condition called follicular dysplasia when he was 5 months old. He was a yellow lab that never grew hair. He was bald all of his life and fought infected hair follicles all his life. Charlie was a trooper. The best disposition, most loyal, and loving dog. My 2 year old son calls him "Chooch" and is saying "were's Chooch"? That hardest decision ever was putting him down. He had been through so much, but was still acting fine. His joints were in good condition. He did start having seizures about a year ago, but only had about 3. So I still don't know if I made the right decision. Our vet said she questioned his quality of life at 6 months old, knowing Charlie would have to endure years of medications etc., but he enjoyed his life. Loved to go on walks around the Bay, play with the kids, and just cuddle and snuggle. I'm so sad over this and miss him so much.

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      annmarie 4 years ago

      Our beloved 12 year old beagle, Sara, was diagnosed with lymphoma only 2 weeks ago. She was playing and eating well when all of a sudden she curled up in pain. Vet said she had a mass on her spleen that was bleeding into her stomach. So quick, we had to make a decision and still not sure if it was the right one. We are so broken hearted over this. She was so loved and cherished and such a good girl.

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      Doug Gallagher 4 years ago

      To everyone who has lost a pet...I know your pain..have faith...and you will see your pet or in some cases pets in the next just need to believe. Be sure to read "Rainbow Bridge".

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      Del 4 years ago

      I had to have my beautiful and faithful collie , put down 4 weeks ago He was 13 past, had arthritis so bad I would cary him up the steps so we could go for our two walks every day, then something happened, the vet said he had a stroke, his lower jaw quivered so bad he couldent hardly eat, we had a bond so close if I was in the bathroom to long he would push the door open to check on me, I am a man 79, and I still cry for my tanner dog,or his nick name puppy dog, I am crying as I write this I hurt so bad.

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