How To Tell When Euthanasia Is The Right Choice For Your Beloved Dog
Deciding whether to have your beautiful fur baby put to sleep can be a very traumatic decision. If you have an elderly dog, or a sick dog, perhaps you are worried about knowing whether your dog is still happy, or whether in fact, they are ready to say goodbye.
PUTTING A DOG TO SLEEP: THE HARDEST DECISION TO MAKE
Let me come clean: I am writing this, surrounded by a sea of tissues, several weeks after having made this most horrible decision. It wasn’t a ‘difficult’ decision to make: it was one I had been preparing myself for, for many months.
It wasn’t difficult, because I knew that when THAT moment came, I needed to do what was right for my beautiful dog. In that sense, it was simple. But it was the most awful, painful and horrible decision for me.
Know that if the time comes, you may need to do this for your loved one too. His or her suffering is more important than yours. That doesn’t make it any easier, I know. The question is, how do you know when THAT moment has come?
UNDERSTAND YOUR DOG’S CONDITION
When I decided to have my beautiful boy put to sleep, he had been gradually worsening for a year. He had a neurological illness, Wobblers, that was slowly taking away control of his body.
When he was first diagnosed, I researched the illness, so I had a better idea of what to expect in the future.
It’s helpful to do this, because apart from being better able to look after your fur-baby while they are still with you, it will also help you with understanding when the time has come to say goodbye.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY DOG IS STILL HAPPY? A TOOL TO HELP YOU KNOW
I learned that it was important to identify the things that my dog did when he was happy, in other words, what his ‘good day’ indicators were. By recording these over time, it helps us measure how much joy our dogs are still getting from life.
I drew up a list of these things. Your list, for your dog, will of course be different to mine, though some of the behaviours may be the same. My list looked like this:
However, because he had a degenerative illness, I also wanted to monitor his physical abilities, not just the things he WANTED to do. Eating, drinking, how he walked, his toileting – these are things we can record to help us understand how their body functions change over time. So I added these to my list:
Of course, your list may look different to mine.
At first, it wasn’t necessary to check all of these things on the list. For instance, initially my dog wasn’t incontinent at all, but that developed as his illness progressed.
I made a spreadsheet of my lists and once a week, I allocated a number to each item. I gave each item a 5 if it was really positive, for instance, if he initiated play every day. I gave it a 1 if it was very bad, for instance, in the last months of his life, my boy was completely fecally incontinent.
By adding up the points, you get an overall idea of how happy and well your dog is: the higher the score, the better the quality of life they have. This is a simple tool to help us pet parents objectively measure an aspect of our dogs’ lives.
WHEN IT IS NOT YET TIME TO PUT YOUR DOG TO SLEEP
Over time, I could see the total of all the points gradually falling. However, I could also see that whilst his body was failing him physically, he was still enjoying life. There were things I could do to help him manage some of the physical restrictions.
His walking got worse and worse. He was still able to walk around the house, but couldn’t stay on his feet long enough to go for a walk. When his back legs started to struggle on walks, I got him a rear leg wheelchair. This enabled him to continue going out for walks, something he loved.
Eventually, when he began to stumble on his front legs too, I got an extension for the rear-leg wheelchair, making it onto a full, 4 wheel chair.
Although his overall scale was dropping on my spreadsheet, it was clear that he was still enjoying life, and still had a relatively good quality of life. His time had not come yet.
Likewise, there may be things that you can do for your dog, that will improve their quality of life and enable them to continue on happily for some more time.
A SUDDEN CHANGE
However, one morning, a month ago, my beautiful boy could suddenly no longer take any weight on his legs. He could no longer stand. There were other physical changes too, including urinary incontinence and inability to shift his weight.
He still wanted to eat, and play with toys, but these were the only things on my list that scored a positive.
My spreadsheet had given me a sense of support in being able to recognise when ‘the time was right’, but if something dramatic happens to your fur baby, the spreadsheet may no longer be necessary.
However, he had experienced a setback before, that he largely recovered from. So, I called the vet, discussed it with them, and decided to wait one day, to see if my wonderful boy could turn it around once again.
It wasn’t to be.
THE LAST DAY
The next morning he was worse. I knew that the moment had come. I didn’t want to accept it, but I could see the stress he was under.
I called the vet, and they kindly arranged for me to go in after their last consultation, when I would be able to take all the time I needed to say goodbye to him.
I got my mother to go to the butcher and get some nice juicy bones, and a new toy from the pet shop. My dogs regularly get marrow bones in the summer, when they can enjoy them outside. But this was mid-winter and they hadn’t had a bone for some weeks.
He dug into that bone with such gusto. It’s easy to fool yourself when you see your dog still enjoying something. You tell yourself that they are still happy, that the time hasn’t come yet. But I was just fooling myself.
I made his final hours as enjoyable as possible for him. I brushed him – he loved being brushed. I gave him constant cuddles, which he could never get enough of. He played with his toys, and enjoyed his bone and yummy treats. I took photos and videos, knowing they would be the last.
I felt sick to my stomach as I put him in the back of the van to go to the vet. I knew I was doing the right thing for him: his time had come.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOUR DOG IS PUT TO SLEEP
This all happened during a period of COVID lockdown. I have heard some harrowing stories from other pet parents who were forced to leave their beloved dog at the vet’s door, unable to accompany them in their final moment.
I was lucky: my wonderful vet closed the blinds on the windows, locked the door and dimmed the lights. They put a blanket on the floor and we laid my beautiful boy down for the last time.
I managed not to sob uncontrollably while he was still with me. I was crying quietly, but trying to contain it for his benefit. I didn’t want his final moments to be further stressed by my pain.
The vet explained what was about to happen: she would inject him with a massive dose of anaesthetic, which would cause his heart to stop suddenly. It would be swift and painless.
She also warned me that I might see him twitch or move afterwards, but that it would just be the neurons still running around his nervous system, a common occurrence after death.
I held him and spoke to him softly, and I stroked him as I watched the liquid being pumped into his body. It was an intensely quiet moment, that seemed to last forever and yet, at the same time, it was over in a millisecond.
She checked his pulse. He was gone.
She was right: they do twitch. I could still feel movement in his body. He shuddered and shifted. Then his bladder emptied. After a few more moments, there was no more movement.
I held on to him for so long, sobbing uncontrollably. At some point I realised that his nose and mouth were already cold to the touch. His tongue was out. His eyes were still open. I tried to close them but I couldn’t.
Dogs don’t close their eyes when they are put to sleep.
And then an emergency arrived – some poor soul whose beloved dog needed urgent treatment. Someone who still had the chance to help their dog get better.
I hugged my beautiful boy one last time and said goodbye.
I had arranged to leave him with the vet, for his cremation. I suddenly realised that I’d forgotten to give him any of the treats I’d brought with me. I had intended to distract him from what was going on, but he hadn’t needed them. He was ready.
Each of us deals with loss in our own way. Not everyone will want to – or feel able to – watch the last bit of life slip away from someone so deeply loved. You will do what is right for you, but more importantly, what is right for your beautiful dog.
I have found it very difficult, but also very therapeutic and cathartic, to write these words to you. I needed to do it, to help me process what has happened.
If you now find yourself facing the loss of your beloved dog, you might also find these words about grief after losing a beloved dog to be helpful. You are not alone xo
These books deal with the grief following the loss of a pet.