When Is It Time to Consider Euthanasia for My Dog?

Putting down your dog can be the toughest decision you ever have to make. It is a decision you should not take lightly. When considering euthanasia for your dog you should always consult with others who are involved in animal care to help find the best solution to ease the suffering of your dog.

Coming to terms with the fact that your dog is getting old is a sad realization to have and seeing your dog feeble and in pain is a very sad sight. This is what leads many pet owners to consider euthanasia. Finding out if you should consider having your dog euthanized is a very complex issue.

If you know your dog is suffering and in pain, euthanasia might be the best option. The tricky part is determining what kind of quality of life your dog has. You obviously do not want to euthanize your dog if the dog still enjoys life and has a manageable amount of pain. Basing your decision to euthanize your dog off of guesswork and assumptions is not a good way to approach this problem.

old happy dog running

How To Determine Your Dogs Quality of Life

The signs of old age are fairly easy to spot. The most obvious symptom of age is a lack of energy. An increase in lethargy should be expected, especially in bigger dog breeds as they get older. What is most important is pain level with your older dog. If the dog is constantly in a lot of pain, the first option should be pain management. A very strong indicator of a poor quality of life is if the dog is still in a lot of pain even while taking medication. Keep reading for a chart of sign and symptoms that indicate a dog is in pain.

Special Consideration for Larger Breeds 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs weighing over 70lbs have a 45% greater chance of developing arthritis. Another correlation between health problems and dog size is the age at which a dog is considered geriatric. According to the UC Davis Book of Dogs:

  • small-breed dogs (such as small terriers) become geriatric at 11 years
  • medium-breed dogs (such as larger golden retrievers) at 10 years
  • large-breed dogs (such as german shepherds) at 8 years
  • giant-breed dogs (such as Great Danes) at 7 years

In the April issue of the scientific journal “The American Naturalist,” biologists at Germany’s University of Göttingen explored the relationship between the size of dog breed and life expectancy. Researchers analyzed data on over 55,000 dogs representing 75 breeds that visited North American veterinary teaching hospitals. The scientists found that larger dogs appeared to age at a faster rate than smaller dogs. Interestingly, the research concluded that every increase in 4.4 pounds reduces life expectancy by approximately one month. 

The breed of dog, however, is more important in determining possible future health problems than the size of the dog. Some breeds are more predisposed to inherit specific diseases. Dog Time has a great section on specific breeds of dogs and frequent health problems.

senior old dog euthanasia

Spaying and Neutering

According to a study by the British Veterinary Association, neutered and spayed dogs live longer on average compared to non neutered and spayed dogs. Furthermore, the study suggested female dogs live 0.80 years longer than male dogs. 

Signs and Behaviors of Dogs Before Dying
  • Labored breathing
  • Incontinent
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Lack of appetite

These are all fairly strong indications that your dogs health is deteriorating. Excessive fur shedding, cataracts and lack of vision, deafness, and difficulty moving are other less serious health problems that should be addressed. Everything needs to be taken into consideration when deciding if your dogs symptoms are enough to warrant euthanasia. 

A whole separate article can be written about pain management and how difficult it is to accurately quantify pain across different populations of people. It is even more difficult to gauge pain levels for a dog. Because of this lack of analytical tools and an obvious communication barrier, it is hard to reliably gauge a dog's pain levels. This leaves pet owners having to estimate the pain level of a dog. 

If you are trying to estimate your dogs acute (temporary) pain level following an injury or surgery then please use this helpful chart to measure pain levels. If your dog scores a 3 or 4 on the scale you should consider a new medication or increasing the dosage. Most importantly you should consult with a veterinarian.

dog pain levels memorial

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is defined as persistent pain lasting for 12 weeks or longer. This type of pain likely indicates a more serious underlying health problem. The pain your dog experiences should be analyzed on a weekly basis. Every dog has good and bad days. If there are more good days than bad days in a week that is a positive sign that your dog has a decent quality of life.

Talk to Your Veterinarian

It is important to set up a vet appointment for your dog before administering any medical treatment. Your veterinarian will be the best source of information regarding the prognosis of your dog and determining the best treatment plan. Not only are veterinarians good at treating a medical condition with your dog, they are also good at determining the expected effectiveness of medication in helping your dog. As mentioned earlier, one of the main factors in determining a dog's quality of life is to measure the pain the dog experience AFTER taking medication.

If your dog is prescribed medication and is still having trouble doing daily activities such a getting up stairs or going outside and is experiencing worsening health problems then you need to re-evaluate the quality of life of your dog. Sometimes increasing the dosage of medication will help, other times it will not. This is something you need to discuss with a veterinarian.

Cost of Treatment

Unfortunately, cost does come into play when making this decision. Often times the cost of treating your dog’s disease may outweigh the slight improvement in quality your dog will have for his or her remaining few years. Furthermore, what sometimes happens with pet owners is they pay for the initial treatment plan but cannot afford the remaining treatment or medication. It helps to consult with your veterinarian on the cost of the full treatment plan before starting anything.  

old dog on couch cremation

In many cases, your dog will give you signs that it is not living a happy or fulfilling life. You know your dog better than anyone so it should be obvious when your dog is really struggling. Ultimately the goal is to reduce the suffering and discomfort of your dog. It can be difficult to not second guess yourself if you decide to use euthanasia to put your dog to sleep. A common reaction is to feel guilty for even considering euthanasia. In a situation like this, you need to leave your personal desires and wishes to the side. Of course YOU want your dog to stay around, but the decision to euthanize should be based solely off of the dog's quality of life.  

Getting Vet Checkups

Some health problems are avoidable with routine visits to a veterinarian. If you have pet insurance plan it increases the likelihood of taking your dog to vet appointments. A little bit of maintenance can go a long way in ensuring the longevity of your pet. Check out How to Care for Your Old Dog for an in-depth look at ways to improve the life of your senior dog.

Healthy Paws provides nationwide pet health insurance at affordable rates. Health insurance for a pet can be a lifesaver if your pet gets injured or starts exhibiting worrisome symptoms. Also, the early detection of a disease can drastically increase the survival rate for your dog so that they live a long and happy life.

Here at Safe Passage Urns we have a beautiful collection of cremation urns to memorialize your dog. Our company has recently rolled out a program to plant a tree for every urn sold with the help of the One Tree Planted organization. We have this green initiative in place to help dog owners like you give back to our planet. Pay tribute to a loyal and loving dog with a unique and one-of-a-kind cremation urn today.

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Related Post:
Dog   How to Care for Your Senior Dog
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