Putting your dog to sleep is one of the hardest decisions of life. The realization that the joyous days with your furry friend might be coming to a conclusion is enormously painful. But as much as it hurts, it’s necessary to understand a few things and prepare in advance.
We all want to help our beloved pet cross the Rainbow Bridge peacefully and gently. With modern-day veterinary medicine, and by following the ‘Humane Euthanasia Protocol’, we can make this a reality for Fido or Fifi.
But for we owners, left behind to second-guess our decision, and wrestling with feelings of loss and guilt – it’s not peaceful at all.
Putting Your Dog to Sleep – A Final Act Of Love:
Whether we call it ‘putting our dog to sleep’, ‘putting our dog down’ or ‘euthanizing our dog’, it’s a subject no one wants to talk about – and with good reason.
But it’s one we must talk about, especially as the owners of older, elderly, or senior dogs. Our dogs are much-loved family members but they can’t (and won’t) live forever.
Dogs live for only a fraction of a human lifetime, and we know that when we bring Fido into our lives, but we don’t want to think about losing him.
But if your dog is now a ‘golden oldie’ that time is coming…. and it will be more difficult for you to make the right decision for YOUR dog if you haven’t thought it through beforehand.
There are lots of questions, a swirling maelstrom of emotions, and practical considerations as well.
8 Important Questions About Putting Your Dog To Sleep
To help dog owners who are considering putting their dogs to sleep, we have written this detailed guide, with 8 important questions to consider:
- How will I know when it’s time to euthanize my dog?
- What will happen when I put my dog to sleep? Will it hurt/scare him?
- How do I say goodbye?
- Where should the procedure take place?
- How much does dog euthanasia cost?
- How does it work? Cremation, Burial & Memorials
- How can I manage the loss?
- Should I get another dog?
On this page, I’m going to take a close look at dog euthanasia, and the questions, controversies, and emotions that surround it.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
When Is The ‘Right’ Time? Signs To Put Your Dog to Sleep
‘How will I know it’s the right time to euthanize my dog?’
This is probably one of the most common questions owners ask, and the most difficult one to answer. I’ve seen (and felt) the distress, pain, and internal battle that it causes.
In fact, there may not be a clear-cut ‘right’ time to euthanize your dog, but there is often (although not always) a window where it could be considered the ‘best’ time for a number of reasons.
There are some situations where the answer to this question is pretty clear-cut:
- When a dog is in severe, chronic pain which can’t be relieved
- When a dog is critically injured and won’t be able to survive the damage
- If a dog’s quality of life is so poor that he/she is merely ‘existing’ not ‘living’
But, there are more ‘gray’ areas than black and white.
Which is the right choice to make when:
- Our dog is in long-term chronic pain, but it IS relieved by medication/treatment
- He isn’t able to run/play and barely eats, but still seems to be comfortable
- She has a terminal disease, but doesn’t have any insurmountable symptoms – yet
- Our dog is mostly anxious/confused but has short periods of being her ‘old self’
- He has no appetite, often refuses to drink, and has trouble with incontinence
There are also other potentially difficult situations, such as:
- When a dog is aggressive to the point of being dangerous, and training, behavioral modification, and other treatments haven’t helped.
- When finances simply don’t allow you to afford ongoing, long-term treatment for your dog’s severe, chronic, and eventually terminal health conditions.
- When your dog could survive for some time to come, but his life will be full of vet visits, painful treatments, anxiety, and stress… with no hope of recovery, just management.
All of the above clearly shows that there is NO single, one-size-fits-all answer to any of these questions. As owners, we know our dogs better than anyone else in the world.
We have to rely on our veterinarians for professional advice, but it’s important to remember that they only see our pets for very short periods of time – and that their advice will be based on general veterinary principles.
They have to be more objective than we are… and a veterinarian’s objectivity is sometimes essential if emotions are getting in the way of a decision that obviously needs to be made. If a chronic, serious, and debilitating illness is the reason you’re trying to decide whether or not to put your dog to sleep, your vet’s input is very important.
But… your vet doesn’t know Fido the way you do.
He can’t tell what your dog is feeling by the way he holds his ears, or ‘read’ the look in his eye…. but you can.
Your dog can’t tell you when he’s in pain, in fact, he’ll most likely try his best to pretend he’s fine, so don’t assume that if he’s not crying or whining then he’s fine.
Common signs of distress/pain in dogs include:
- Excessive panting and/or drooling
- Excessive shaking & shivering – even in a warm environment
- A distended, rigid tummy
- Short, rapid breathing patterns
- Lethargy, hiding, excessive sleeping
- Whining, crying, or whimpering – when touched, moved, or at any time
- Loss of appetite and/or thirst
- Vomiting, excessive yawning, retching
For a more detailed look at the way dogs handle, exhibit (and sometimes hide) pain check out this page Is My Dog in Pain?
Chronic problems like arthritis, poor sight or hearing, incontinence, or confusion (such as seen in Old Dog Syndrome) can usually be managed effectively for some time, but eventually, there will be a point where you have to differentiate between a ‘fair’ quality of life and one that is ‘unfair’, to both of you.
But do remember, that what WE as humans might consider a poor quality of life, isn’t necessarily perceived the same way by our dogs.
Dogs don’t worry about the future,
There’s often a relationship between dog and owner that is more ‘sixth sense’ than it is physical communication, and your ‘gut’ may well guide you when it comes to choosing the right, or best, time to help him reach the Rainbow Bridge.
There’s no single way to make this difficult decision as every dog, every owner, and every situation (and combination of these three) is different.
I recently came across a couple of websites that might be of interest to anyone who is caring for a terminally ill senior dog or grieving (whether in advance or after the fact) the death of a beloved pet.
There’s information, advice, support, lists of relevant organizations & services (including pet cemeteries and crematoriums) plus newsletters, in memoriams, chat rooms, and more. Check these out:
Questions To Ask Yourself
Our beloved George!
If you’re wondering whether this is the time when you need to consider putting your dog to sleep, these questions might help clarify things for you.
Although the answers aren’t going to be ‘cut-and-dried’, asking yourself these questions (and answering honestly) will help you gauge the quality of life your dog is experiencing.
This will, in turn, help you to decide what is in your dog’s best interest, right now.
- Is my dog in pain which can’t be controlled?
- Is he able to eat/drink/pee/poop without regular assistance?
- Can he move around? Get outside to pee/poop? Toddle over for a cuddle?
- Does he find enjoyment in food/toys/treats/cuddles… anything?
- Is he scared, anxious, or confused most of the time?
- Does he take comfort from being around you, or at home, or is he oblivious?
- Does he participate in life in any way, or is he just ‘exisiting’?
Once you’ve looked at the answers you’ve given to these questions, you’ll probably have a better idea of what you feel is the right path to take, at this point.
It could be that you realize your dog is still relatively comfortable and is getting enjoyment or comfort from each day.
If this is the case, then you may not need to think about putting your dog to sleep just yet.
I suggest that you let your veterinarian give you the practical information that you need, and then follow your own heart and instincts.
You might also want to talk to your partner, other family members, or dog-owning friends and ask for input, advice, or just a shoulder to cry on.
Although non-dog-owing friends will be eager to help you too, if they don’t feel the same way about dogs as you do, and/or have never been in this situation, they’re unlikely to be able to understand your emotions.
And don’t forget faith and prayer.
Personally, I believe dogs most definitely have souls, and I believe that God cares for all animals and I have no qualms about praying for guidance in reference to my pets as well as humans!
You love your dog, and you’re doing the best you can to make sure that he doesn’t suffer and has the chance to pass peacefully from this life to the next.
It’s a very personal decision and one you’re putting a lot of thought into, so once you have decided, try not to second-guess yourself.
Trust your decision-making process and do your best to be calm and accepting, your emotions will spill over onto your dog so make it easier for him/her by being easier on yourself.
Should I Put My Dog to Sleep? (Answer These 6 Questions)
If you would like to get our opinion on your own personal situation, you can click “Start” on the image below, and answer 6 questions in our quiz:
What Happens During The Euthanasia Process?
This is something else you might not want to think about, but I know that in order to make a decision about something, I always need all the facts. You may be the same way.
When the time came to euthanize my old friend, I wanted to make absolutely sure that she got the very best care and the most peaceful and pain-free farewell possible.
Having a working knowledge of the way euthanasia works helped reduce the anxiety and fear that I felt for her because I knew that she wasn’t going to be afraid, or suffer from the process.
While holding her head and watching her face I could clearly see that she slipped from this world slowly and peacefully. I couldn’t have asked for more.
I am so very grateful for that.
There’s something called the ‘Humane Euthanasia Protocol’ which is basically a set of guidelines for veterinarians who are administering euthanasia – whether at a veterinary clinic or a dog’s own home.
The Humane Euthanasia Protocol basically calls for there to be two parts to the euthanasia procedure:
- First, a sedative/tranquilizer/pain-reliever (or combination of these) is given
- Once the pet is relaxed and sedated, an IV is inserted for the administering of the euthanasia solution
- Then, after a few minutes spent saying ‘goodbye’ to family, another sedative may be given followed by the final drug which will stop the heart
Following these steps ensures that your dog doesn’t become scared or stressed and that he doesn’t feel any pain as he passes.
It’s the most humane form of dog euthanasia.
There are additional costs involved because multiple drugs are used, but it’s not prohibitive and to my mind, it’s more than worth spending those extra dollars.
The bad news is that veterinarians aren’t obliged to follow this protocol!
The generally acceptable method of putting a dog to sleep (which is, in fact, considered the ‘best practice’ by the World Society of Protection for Animals) is for a veterinarian to stop an animal’s heart with one injection of barbiturates.
Barbiturates are drugs that depress the central nervous system and given in high enough doses it will cause anesthesia, then death.
This form of euthanasia is effective and relatively quick, but it’s not always pain-free and can cause short-term distress or anxiety.
I definitely don’t want my dog to feel pain, fear, or distress, so when the time comes I will make sure that my veterinarian follows the Humane Euthanasia Protocol – to the letter.
You can do this too.
Simply let your vet know that this is the procedure you want for your dog – and insist it’s followed!
Your veterinarian should be familiar with it, if not you can describe the steps as I have above, it’s not difficult to understand.
How Do I Say Goodbye To My Dog?
Saying goodbye to your dog is never easy.
The old ‘sent to a nice farm’ may have spared you the pain of losing a pet as a child. But as an adult, you will have to face this heartbreaking reality with a brave heart.
Your beloved Fido who you nurtured like a baby is moving on. Just the thought of letting him go is terrifying. You feel scared and overwhelmed with emotions. I know this is a difficult time but it’s also important that you spend those last days or moments with him to the fullest. So you don’t have any regrets later on. You’ll carry the loss but saying goodbye will unburden you of the guilt. You will know that you loved your baby and your baby loved you.
Here are a number of things you can do to say goodbye to your dog.
Decide things ahead of time
Unless you don’t get the choice, it’s always best to decide everything ahead of time. Whether you want to do it in the clinic or at home. Whether you want to bury him or go with cremation. Whether you’d like to keep the ashes or not. These are all the things that you will benefit from planning ahead. This will save you from the last-minute anxiety and wasting the time that you could be spending saying goodbye.
Memorize everything about him
Look at him. Notice everything about him. His innocent eyes looking up at you with love. The brown spots melting into his white coat or the white spots appearing unexpectedly on his brown coat. How his hair curls a little more around his neck. And just about every little unique thing that makes him HIM. Etch that image in your brain and hold onto it. These memories of him are what will live on.
Take a lot of pictures
This might not be right for every dog. But if you’re not in an emergency situation and your dog still somehow feels like himself, you should take a lot of pictures of him. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown photoshoot. These could be pictures of him lying on the couch or cuddling on your lap or simply doing his everyday things.
Get his nose or paw prints
Immortalizing your Fido or Fifi is an integral part of saying goodbye. One thing you can do to ensure that is to ask your vet for a paw impression or casting. Put the casting on the mantle or frame the impression along with the photo of your dog. A part of him will always be in the house.
If you’re lucky enough to get the chance, spoil him with things that he still loves and enjoys. Every dog has a favorite food. Maybe it’s a jar of peanut butter. A pint of chocolate ice cream. Or a big serving of strawberry-flavored yogurt. Bring it to him and let him lap it up. This will make him happy and take his mind off the discomfort he is in.
Where Should My Dog Be Put To Sleep?
This subject is fraught with questions, dilemmas, and decisions… and the subject of where your dog should spend his last minutes is another big one.
Most commonly dogs are taken to a veterinary hospital/office for euthanasia to be administered, but there are vets who are willing to come to your home and put your dog to sleep in his own bed. The cheapest way to euthanize your dog is to use the Humane Society, which offers low-cost options. Learn more in our article about the costs of putting your dog down.
There are pros and cons to each of these options, and you’ll need to take into account your dog’s size, mobility, and temperament as well as your own needs and abilities.
My daughter had her adopted senior dog, George (pictured earlier on this page) euthanized at home, and although it was a sad experience it was also quite stress-free – for him anyway.
You can discuss this with your own vet and ask if he/she would be willing to make a house-call and perform the procedure for you.
If the answer is ‘no’, then check out mobile veterinarians in your area. The In-Home Pet Euthanasia Directory has a comprehensive list of suitable veterinarians in both the USA and Canada.
So does the American Association of Housecall Veterinarians (www.homevets.org)
If you feel that putting your dog to sleep would be easier/better in a clinical environment, your own vet can do that for you.
Here’s a quick look at the positives and negatives of at-home vs. clinic procedures.
At-Home Dog Euthanasia
This might be the route to take if:
- Your dog is too large, sick, or immobile to be transported to your vet’s office
- If he’s very anxious about car trips or the vet clinic stresses him out
- There are other dogs in the family (they’ll benefit from seeing his body)
- If you feel that YOU will handle the situation better at home
- You’d appreciate the privacy of experiencing this and grieving at home
- If money isn’t a big worry. At-home procedures often incur extra costs
Euthanizing Your Dog At The Vet Clinic
This might be the right choice for you if:
- You want your own vet to perform the procedure, but he won’t make a housecall
- You’d prefer a ‘neutral’ location without the memories being associated with home
- Going in the car or to the vet’s office doesn’t make your dog anxious
- He is still mobile enough, or small enough, to transport easily
- Cost is a concern
A Possible Compromise:
Depending on how well you know your veterinarian and how flexible and caring he/she is, you can often make a clinical euthanasia experience more comfortable and homely by bringing stuff from home to make your dog feel more relaxed.
His bed, blanket, or favorite toy can help. Also, you can ask your vet to prescribe a mild sedative (or sedative and pain reliever) that you can give to your dog a little while before you leave home. This will relax him and alleviate some of his anxieties.
As you can see there are a lot of things to take into consideration when you’re planning how/where to ease your pet from one world to another.
It’s a very personal decision and only you can make it.
How Much Does it Cost to Put a Dog to Sleep?
This time we’re talking about cost in a purely practical way… not the emotional toll it takes but the financial one.
As with everything else, location affects pricing – and if you live in a small town in a rural area, chances are most things are going to be less expensive than if you live in a big metropolitan area.
In-home euthanasia is going to be the most expensive option – and even then the cost can vary depending upon ‘additional services’ or the number of veterinary hours it is going to take up. The additional services can include removal of your dog’s body, and cremation/burial and memorial options.
The size/weight of your dog also affects pricing because a bigger dog requires a larger dose of drugs, and cremation is more expensive for larger dogs.
Charges for dog euthanasia do vary quite considerably, but these are ball-park figures:
Cost Of Clinic Euthanasia: Somewhere between $130 and $350 with group cremation. Learn more.
It’s possible that if you live in a rural area and have a ‘big-animal vet’ whose job is to call on rural farms and homes, he may charge less. Then again, if you live in a big city where everything costs more (such as New York or LA), or opt for several additional services, it could almost certainly cost you more.
Cost Of At-Home Euthanasia: Somewhere between $320 and $650 with group cremation. Learn more.
The basic procedure will usually fall at the bottom end of this scale. The higher end of the price range usually includes additional services such as cremation, return of ashes, and so on. You can also take a look at the prices of the ‘Euthanasia Packages’ provided by one of the veterinarians on the ‘Pet Loss At Home’ network.
Cost of Euthanasia with the Humane Society: The Humane Society of the United States (or various other locations) offers low-cost euthanasia services. Somewhere between $75 and $190 (based on your pet’s weight), with group cremation. Learn more.
In my research, I discovered that it’s a good idea to pay for your dog’s euthanasia in advance of the ‘Day’.
That way you don’t have to worry about payment at a time when your emotions are running high, or have to re-live the heartbreak when you get the bill later on. This all makes perfect sense to me, and I think it’s sound advice. Learn more about the costs of putting a dog to sleep.
How Does it Work? Pet Cremation, Burial & Memorials
So, you’ve decided that it’s the right time to put your dog to sleep, and you’ve decided where, and how, you would like it done.
But there’s now one last decision to make – what do you want to happen to your dog’s body once his spirit has left it.
The options are the same as those for people… burial or cremation. Your veterinarian should be able to help you with both of these.
You’ll need to know about city ordinances that apply to at-home burials of pets, and also the location of pet-cemeteries or crematoriums.
You may want to have your dog’s ashes returned to you, usually in a decorative urn or box.
Or you may not want to do any of the above. No decision is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here.
There are a lot of variables here and you’ll need to do whatever you feel will help you let your pet go, yet keep him close in your heart.
Your veterinarian is familiar with the facilities and choices available to you and will be able to help.
How to find a pet cemetery?
If you choose to bury your dog, you may want to go for a pet cemetery. This will give you the comfort of knowing that the place will always be there. No matter where in the world you go, you can always come back and visit the resting spot of your pet. This list can help you find the pet cemeteries near you.
However, burying your pet in a dedicated place like that could cost you several hundred dollars.
How to bury your pet at home?
If cost is a concern, you can bury your pet in or around your home too. Choose a spot that’s not likely to be dug into in the future, for istance, flower beds. Also, make sure that you don’t choose one near the water pipes.
Dig three feet deep if the soil is light and two feet deep if it’s heavy. Wrap your dog’s body in a blanket and place it in a waterproof material. You may wish to put something on his chest that he cherished, for example, his favorite plushy.
After you’ve filled in the grave, place stones or plants pots on top of it. This will preventing scavanging animals from digging in.
When you are managing the loss, it doesn’t hurt to lean on family/friends either at this time.
You need to grieve the loss of your dog after euthanasia, and you’re entitled to do it in whatever way you want to, and take as long as you need to come to terms with your loss. Your pet was not ‘just a dog’!
Hang onto keepsakes if you need to, or hide everything away. Set up a memorial for him if you want to. Whatever works for you is what you need to do.
How Can I Manage The Loss?
The house that was once full of his happy presence now feels hauntingly empty. A hole seems to have appeared in your home and your heart. Dealing with the loss of your furry companion is not easy in any way. But there are some ways you can manage it.
Talk about it
Nobody can understand your grief like someone who has experienced it. If you have friends and relatives who have gone through what you’re going through, sit down and talk to them. Find a support group, join a forum, call a hotline to talk through your loss.
Have a ceremony
A ceremony could be cathartic for you. You can call your friends and family over but even if you don’t, you can have a small one with the house members. Remembering your pet snd cherishing the memories they left works really well for some people.
Ask questions about your pet’s departure
Talking about the loss with your dog-owning friends helps a great deal but it might not be enough for some people. If you have any questions regarding the passing of your pet, ask them. No doubts, what ifs, and regrets should be lingering. Sit down with your vet and have all your questions answered (how your pet died and if there was ever a chance of survival).
Address any guilt
Putting your dog to sleep is also likely to flood you with the feeling of immense guilt. You are left wondering if you’re making the right choice. But the truth is that you are not taking the life of your pet, you are taking away his suffering. You are giving him the gift of kindness. A peaceful and painless departure to a much better place. Seek comfort in the fact that he is not lying down in pain and is probably up there playing with his other angel friends.
Should I Get Another Dog?
Once you’ve grieved for your dog, and have adjusted to his loss, you may want to consider adding another dog to your home and family.
Of course, the ‘new’ dog will never replace the ‘old’ one in your heart, but it can help to ease the loneliness and sadness.
BUT remember, every dog is different, and don’t compare your second dog to your first. They’re separate individuals and deserve to be loved and appreciated as such. If you do decide to get another dog, NEVER compare him with your previous pet.
In our family, we honor the memory of the previous dog by rescuing a lonely, needy dog from the local pound or rescue. It’s our way of making sure that something positive comes out of a pet’s death… and it really seems to help, everyone.
My Personal Experience of Dog Euthanasia at Home
I had my first experience with euthanizing a dog at home when my 14-year-old Rottweiler, Bonnie, collapsed suddenly as she went out for her pre-bed potty break.
It was around 8pm, totally unexpected, and moving her was not on the cards as I was sure her heart was failing and the stress and fear of being carried and then a car trip was more than I wanted to put her through at that point.
As we scrambled to find a mobile veterinarian in our area (we found 3, none of whom could come out), my son-in-law called the number on the Pet Loss At Home website and was put in touch with a local vet. She was lovely, came out immediately, and evaluated Bonnie, deciding that she was most likely in heart failure (the other, possible but unlikely option being torsion, but I was sure in my heart that was not the case).
My sweet, sweet girl would most likely not have survived being moved, let alone a fairly lengthy car ride (we live out in the country) and a rigorous exam. So, we all agreed that the kindest (and most appropriate) option was euthanasia, but it was a heart-wrenching decision nevertheless.
Thankfully, this wonderful lady vet walked us through the whole procedure. She was so kind, calm, and compassionate, which made it bearable. She even made a cast of Bonnies’ pawprint for us to keep (at no extra charge).
I had dreaded having to face this decision, more with every passing year (at 14 our Bonnie had lived longer than 99% of Rotties normally do), but circumstances dictated that she be euthanized at home, and the vet we were lucky enough to get made it manageable for everyone (although there were still a lot of tears).
Bonnie never seemed to be in pain, or really distressed, she slipped slowly to sleep after being given the pain-killer/sedative combination (she lost consciousness I guess, but she seemed to be dozing). Her heartbeat actually slowed and then stopped of its own accord before the euthanasia solution was administered. However, the vet did inject it anyway just to be absolutely sure that Bonnies’ heart had completed stopped before she was moved. Bonnie was much less stressed and upset than we were, which is exactly how I would have wanted it to be (although we did hold it together for her sake until she was ‘asleep’).
The Humane Euthanasia Protocol (talked about earlier on this page) was followed, and the cost of the whole procedure was $550 which included the call out, all medications, and removal of Bonnies’ body (which was done with love and dignity) and cremation. For personal belief reasons, I chose not to have her ashes returned to me, but could have done so at the cost of an additional $100.
So, not inexpensive, but not ridiculously over-priced either, considering that the whole procedure took almost 3 hours from vet arrival to departure, plus 3 large doses of drugs (my Bonnie girl was a big dog)… and that it was late evening and we live outside the main city.
I’m not sure whether Pet Loss At Home vets often make after-hours visits as this is a service that is often arranged for in advance, but I am eternally grateful that this lovely lady answered her phone last Wednesday evening and came straight out to help us. My Bonnie is at peace now.
Thank you Dr. Smith and God Bless you too.
Death, in general, is a difficult topic for most of us, and I know that I hope that when death does come looking for my pets… and for the people that I love… that they will all have the luxury of slipping away peacefully.
Euthanasia for pets, especially when done at home, is the very last gift we can give our precious animal companions. Perhaps one day a similar type of option will be available for us to choose if we want to as well.
This 5-minute video by veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang uses gentle humor to address the topic of death, and euthanasia in our pets…
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