Our dogs are an important part of our lives. They provide companionship, unconditional love, understanding and routine for so many people. It is no wonder then that saying goodbye to a pet is one of the hardest decisions to make. 

Euthanasia is described as an act to end or prevent suffering, but when and how do we know that time has come?

As a pet owner, you will probably look upon your vet for advice at this time. They will be able to give you all of your options, but can also provide a sounding board as you make your own decisions. However, you and your family will know your dog far better than anyone else.

Foremost in your mind should be your pet

Are they still enjoying life? Are they still able to do the things that they like doing best? If not, then we have to question their quality of life. Dogs live in the moment; they don’t look forward to the future in the same way we do or regret what they might miss. They may currently be in pain, feeling lethargic, or feeling unwell, and not able to express their natural behaviour such as eating, grooming themselves or going for an enjoyable walk. 

You might also feel overwhelmed by caring for their increasing needs, finding there are more bad days than good. If this situation is unlikely to improve or indeed is going to continue to get worse, then euthanasia should be considered. 

When looking back, it seems more owners than not have regrets about not making the decision sooner

If you are uncertain about when to say goodbye and not sure when the right time is, then that knowledge might help reassure you. Chronic illnesses are those which are long term and which won’t get better. Timing in those instances can be a grey area, but knowing that it is usually better to let your pet go a day too soon than to hesitate and prolong their pain or discomfort, can be helpful. Of course, there are also emergency situations when a decision has to be made then and there. This can come as a shock to all of us when we haven’t had time to mentally prepare for it.

Euthanasia is sometimes also considered when finances prevent alternative treatment options from being available 

If your dog requires surgery or long term medication to improve their quality of life, but you cannot afford this, then again euthanasia may be an option to prevent suffering. Of course, other avenues can be explored such as charity help or finance options. But in some instances, it may be kinder to say goodbye. This is a tough call, but a realistic one especially as some incurable or long term cases can be quite a financial strain on families.

You should also consider how you would like to manage things after your pet has passed

Your vet practice will be able to provide you with information on your options. But it is worth having a think in advance about what your preferences are. Your practice should be able to organise a cremation and your pet’s ashes can be scattered communally at the crematorium. You may also opt for an individual cremation, with your dog’s ashes returned to you.

Some owners want to keep their dog close by in an urn or other keepsake. Others may wish to scatter ashes on a favourite walk or a preferred sunbathing spot in the garden. Taking your dog home to bury them is another option.  You could also think about planting a tree or flower in their memory or keeping a lock of their fur. However you grieve for your pet, it is a very individual process.

Putting an animal to sleep is a very emotional time

You are saying goodbye to a close member of your family and that can be really hard. You need to have support around you, and discussing things with your friends and family can help. Talking to a pet bereavement service can prove to be very helpful for some people.

Your vet or vet nurse is also there for you if you are having any concerns about your decisions. Hopefully in time though you will be able to look back on all of the happy memories you have shared with your dog and feel comfortable with any final decisions that you make for them.

Read the rest of our series on end of life care for dogs here;