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Knowing When to Say Goodbye


knowing when to put your dog to sleep

One of the hardest parts of dog ownership is knowing when the time is right to say goodbye.  Whether a sudden illness or old age brings about the inevitable, there is no easy way to ensure you are ready to help your pet cross the rainbow bridge.  Unfortunately, one of the biggest regrets that many pet owners have is that they waited too long to euthanize (put to sleep) a sick or suffering animal.  Listed below are seven signs you should consider when making the difficult decision.

Signs To Look For

Here are some common signs to look for when it may be time to start the talking with your vet about end of life care.

Refusing Food

When animals lose interest in food, it is often their way of indicating their time on Earth is ending.  Lack of appetite for food or water is one of the first signs that an animal is suffering or that its organs are shutting down.

Changes in Mood

Dogs are prone to cognitive disorders as they age, particularly canine dementia or age-related aggression.  If your dog’s behavior makes a sudden change, such as a normally mild-mannered dog becoming agitated at everyday objects that never posed an issue before (like a garbage can), consult with your veterinarian whether an underlying issue is to blame or if cognitive dysfunction is occurring.

Lack of Social Behavior

Another warning sign that your dog’s life is nearing its end is that your pet no longer wants to socialize with human, canine, or inter-species family.  If your pet would prefer to keep to itself and refuses cuddles or attention, quality of life may be diminishing.

Chronic Pain

One of the top reasons that veterinarians recommend euthanasia for sick animals is the presence of pain.  Dogs and cats are evolutionarily prone to hiding pain as much as possible, so when discomfort is visible the pain is likely excruciating.  If your dog’s pain cannot be managed with medication, it is time to discuss end-of-life care with your veterinarian. We call this the “ouch years“.

Limited Mobility

Is your dog able to comfortably walk from room to room, or does he or she need help moving about the house?  If your dog is suffering from arthritis, hip dysplasia, or certain types of cancer (such as osteosarcoma), mobility may be greatly diminished as the disease worsens.  When a pet can no longer move about the house without help, consider whether your dog’s quality of life is diminishing.


As dogs age and begin to lose control of their bowels and bladders, they may find themselves in situations where they are unable to make it outdoors to do their business.  This situation can be extremely distressing for dogs that were once potty-trained, especially as it is counter-intuitive to their nature to avoid eliminating in the areas they sleep. Though there is such a thing as a dog diapers, you will need to really think if they will help or just prolong things in a way that is uncomfortable for you dog.

Diminished Enjoyment in Daily Activities

The final question to ask yourself is whether your dog has full enjoyment of its favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing in the yard, or chasing a favorite toy.  While the decision is never an easy one, it is up to us as pet owners to keep our pets comfortable.  When pain or disease robs them of their ability to live a fulfilling life, it might be time to say goodbye.

We suggest reading: Coping With Your Dog’s Death

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