Saying Goodbye: Making the Decision to Euthanize Your Dog

Euthanizing Dobby was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. While the support from friends, family, and the online community was absolutely amazing (and, to be honest, a bit overwhelming), I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a hole in my life that Dobby used to fill. There are still moments when I’m taken by surprise at his absence, times when I expect to turn around and see him lying on my bed or wriggling with joy in his crate with his ever-present squeaky ball in his mouth.

Photo by Kelvin Andow

Photo by Kelvin Andow

I’ve written before about coping with the loss of a friend. Obviously, I process best by writing, and others grieve in other ways. There’s no wrong way to grieve for your dog, and whatever you feel when you lose a beloved companion is entirely normal and okay. I’ve had to remind myself of this at times when something silly, like a song or an unexpected memory hits me like a punch in the gut and I feel tears well up once again. Grief is a healing process, and just like healing from a physical injury, it takes time for the wound to stop hurting.

There’s a distinct lack of information online about what to expect if you, like me, are put in the heartbreaking position of euthanizing a young dog for health or behavioral concerns. Personally, knowing what to expect during the euthanasia itself was incredibly helpful. Having assisted with and performed multiple euthanasias during my time as a veterinary technician and the head trainer at an animal shelter, I knew what the process would look like and what options were available to me. My hope is that by writing about my experiences, I can help others who are in similar situations. If you are considering euthanasia for your dog, whether your dog is sixteen years or sixteen months, whether your dog is physically healthy but emotionally hurting or simply ready to leave a body that can no longer keep up with his mind, my heart goes out to you.

Over the next month, we’ll discuss several aspects of euthanasia, including how to know when it’s time, scheduling the appointment, what to expect during the procedure itself, special considerations for if you have multiple pets, and thoughts for after it’s done.  Today we’ll discuss how to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

One of the hardest questions I dealt with in Dobby’s final months was knowing when it was time. Logically, I knew that I had exhausted every option and that Dobby wasn’t going to suddenly get better. I knew that he was frequently scared, that I was exhausted from managing his environment to keep him and those around him safe, and that my other dogs were sometimes frightened of him. Emotionally, however, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I talked with him about it, and got a strong sense from him that he did not want to die.

The turning point for me happened one night when Dobby had a seizure. I had tried to trim his nails earlier that evening, something that he used to behave very well for. He would lie upside down, loose as a noodle, ball in his mouth, while I trimmed his toenails. About six months ago, this changed after a series of seizures left him touch sensitive and defensive. Toenail trims became very difficult, and even when I went very patiently and slowly, feeding him after each nail, Dobby would act frightened as soon as I touched his foot. He had never been quicked or had a bad nail-trim experience, but the way he processed tactile stimulation changed due to his seizures.

This particular evening, Dobby screamed and snapped at me with the first nail I trimmed, urinating in fear. I immediately stopped trying to trim his nails, but half an hour later he had a seizure. After his seizure he was scared and confused, and attacked my youngest dog when she bumped him as she jumped up next to him on the couch. When I intervened, he went after me, and it took all of my extensive handling experience to safely move him to a crate where he could sleep off the effects of the seizure in peace.

As I looked at him, curled up in a protective, frightened ball in his crate, I got a very strong sense that he was ready to go. I got the feeling that it was too hard for him to continue living in a body where small stresses could cause so much pain, and that he was exhausted from living this way. I made his euthanasia appointment the next day.

Your story will likely be different. In many cases, veterinarians tell owners that they will just know when it’s time, and sometimes, like with Dobby, that’s true. However, you may also not know. It’s okay if you feel doubtful or unsure. It’s a big decision to make, and I think doubt is an entirely normal response to making such a huge choice for your dog and your family.

Many of my clients who euthanize their dogs for behavioral reasons do so when they do not feel that they can keep others safe from their dog or when they feel that their dog’s quality of life is so poor that it is not fair to ask them to continue living. In Dobby’s case, I kept a journal where I tracked his good days, his bad days, and his seizures with the thought that when his bad days outnumbered his good days it might be time, but the journal was ultimately not the deciding factor. When I reviewed his final month, he had an equal number of good and bad days, and had an average of one seizure very 5-6 days.

Sometimes it can be helpful to think of factors that will help you make the decision ahead of time, way before you’re faced with the decision. Some people advise making a list of five of your dog’s favorite activities. When your dog is no longer interested in three of those five activities, that might be the appropriate time. I’ve decided that with Layla, it will be time to consider euthanasia when she’s no longer interested in eating, chewing on bones, going on walks, going places with me, or chasing critters.

Regardless of how you come to the decision, I can say that I have never heard anyone say that they wish they had waited. I have, however, heard many, many people say that they wish they had said goodbye sooner. If your dog is in pain (whether physical or emotional) and you cannot help them manage that pain, it may be a great kindness to say goodbye.

As hard as it was to euthanize Dobby, I regret waiting so long. Looking back, I feel like I made exactly the right decision – I personally needed to feel like I’d tried everything, and until the night of his seizure I got a strong sense from Dobby that he wasn’t ready to give up either. However, his final months were certainly much harder than the previous years, and he was often confused or disoriented due to the brain damage from his seizures. My other dogs also had a difficult few months, as Dobby could be unpredictable and aggressive. Making the decision sooner could have saved all of us from a lot of stress, but I find a lot of comfort in having exhausted all available options. There are no “what ifs” in my situation – they were all explored completely.

Regardless of your situation, knowing when to say goodbye is a very personal decision. If you’ve made this choice for a dog you cared for, how did you come to your conclusion? What did you consider, or did you just know when the time was right? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

88 responses to “Saying Goodbye: Making the Decision to Euthanize Your Dog

  1. Thanks everyone for responding. It really helps to have other dog owners agreeing with my decision.

  2. Hi. My partner and i recently had our beautiful 3 year old male blue merle put to sleep (sat 20 june at 9:30am) he was epileptic. I would like to share his story as i havent read any like his online and others in our situation may look like i have… Flash! Our boy came to us when he was 11 months old! Beautiful boy, well behaved, loving, obedient, loved walks, not food possessive or aggressive in anyway! Full of life… Flash started having seizures at age 2. First ine a week

    • Sorry… Pressed post by mistake… First one a week then three a week. He was medicated with epiphen which worked well. He lived a perfectly nirmal life except fir his seizures. Iver the course of a year his med dose was upped twice. He was now having cluster seizures each month, every four weeks he would have a group of around 3 seizures but then came this weekend…. From thursday evening to this saturday mirning gone he had 30 plus seizures :-( my partner and i decided it was best to have him put to sleep. THE HARDEST decision we have ever made and the morning of him being put to sleep he was pawing my face, responsive but so weak, he could stand for maybe two seconds before collapsing. I am riddled with extreme loss guilt, and the feeling that should we have tried for him for longer. In my head i know that was too many fits, god knows what it must have done to his heart brain and other organs but i csnt help feeling so deeply that i let him down. My partner and daughter are not here in the day and i am at a loss without my companion. Ive been still doing our walk, i sleep with his teddy to smell him. Its such a horrendous pain. So hard to get through….

      • Sara broom thankyou for your words. Being able to talk people who have experienced the same pain is a huge help. I have managed to stop crying uncontrollably, i did his walk twice yesterday, got home and sat in my house for an hour before i couldnt stand it. I went out and people watched in town. My friend told me off. She said i need to go home snd deal with it, face it. Its just so hard. House is so quiet, empty and grey without him. I know deep down it was right but it is just so sad that this beautiful boy of mine had so much to give, so much to live for and it was taken from him because of his condition. Upon reflecting i realise flash has given me a gift. I never like dogs see, it was my partne who wanted a dog and then it turned out that flash and i spending every day together as i work nights…. We bonded, he taught me to trust dogs, to love dogs. He gave me that gift, he was my teacher :-) i can look back on him and know that any precious furry friends i have in the future are welcomed with love i learned to share from him 😪🐶 rip my flashy boy.

      • I know how awful you are feeling I was there in January. The guilt is normal you had to make a very difficult decision in having your beautiful boy flash put to sleep and it’s only been a matter of days, I took my darling coopers stuffed dog to bed for 2 weeks just for the small comfort of having his smell close to me. Our old dog was epileptic but luckily his seizures were well controlled, even so seeing him have one was a terrible experience, watching your beloved boy suffer so much over those last days you had no choice but to end his suffering it was the ultimate act of love on your part, to keep him with you would have been for your benefit not his it took a lot of strength on your part but also showed the deep love you had for flash he was a very lucky boy to have had you in his life. I hope that this helps and that when you feel ready another dog is lucky enough to have you to love him or her.

  3. Paulette August 3rd, 4PM

    I’m so happy through my tears that I read all of these comments about how to say good-bye to your best friend.

    As I took my ‘Tanner’ to the doggie hotel we favored (Rhodesian Ridge back) for a 10 day needed vacation; I will never forget the look on his face as if to say ” good bye, thank you for taken good care of me!”. His tail wagged and I sucked up the sadness knowing he was in good hands. Three days later I get a call that Tanner passed through the night. It just killed me to pieces feeling the guilt that if I didn’t go he’d still be with me today. I will never know but I tried to enjoy what vacation was left. His memory remained.

    Several weeks later a beautiful white Labrador kept coming in the yard. My heart went out to her and I laid food and water out in case she was hungry or thirsty. She had no tag, collar or any form of someone looking for her so we called her Marley and after advertizing for her owners, no luck came to her yet we got attached and made her ours.

    She was a beautiful companion and as all my dog friends I get so attached and many in my position know the feeling. We had her for seven years but unfortunately she was diagnosed with heart worm and so the story of seeing her loose her strength, suffer from seizures, and witnessing my Marley was at the point of not truly enjoying life. We did what we could regarding heart worm but her testing kept coming back positive and the cost was getting astronomical, so we gave her the best of life we could but making that decision has crimped my emotions to to this day. I just felt like I had no right to end her days of still recognizing me and wagging that tail of happiness.

    I’m glad I read every one who posted their times when euthanizing was a must. I still see her watery eyes but lack of being able to live without the aide of help getting up or suffering from any more seizures. My eyes are so blurry as I write that I’m sure I’ve made some errors but those that have been there will understand. Thank you for this help!

  4. I have to euthanize “my” german shepherd tomorrow. He’s only 3 and I met him only about a month ago.

    We rescued him from a family that had an elderly parent move in. He is a very energetic and smart dog. Sadly in leaving the only home he ever knew he became aggressive.

    I’m a very experience GSD owner and have rescued or fostered a couple of dozen over the past 15 years. After he nipped me the first time I was able to work with him and he is good with me. I know what I did wrong. It took a lot of patience as we have 2 other gsds and they were somewhat protective of me. To make it worse he has no socialization with other dogs. Not aggressive with them but won’t engage in play either. It’s not his fault. It’s just him.

    With people he knows he is protective and wants to be with them or play fetch. With those he doesn’t know he is aggressive as are most GSDs but in strange surroundings (not his fault) he escalates quickly.

    Then about 6 days in he then nipped my son so he and my wife fear him (which doesnt help). Its not just me anymore I need to think about. I notified the rescue group but they nor his original owners would take him back.

    While the rescue group posted him for adoption (nothing found) we found a new home that seemed perfect after a couple of weeks. Full disclosure and advice on patience and no other dogs but it sadly got worse. Fetch is his favorite thing and about all that was familiar to him. Unfortunately the new owner though well meaning and trying hard followed bad advice from a dog “whisperer”. Break his focus on the ball they said. Take it from him. We’ll guess what… it was way too much too soon. Not yet trusting what could have been a great partnership instead got rushed and ended up in a full out bite. Poor guy is petrified now.

    So now he’s coming back to me (I cannot do what the rescue group has done to me). But my family does not feel safe. Plus my wife is on blood thinners so an accident such as this could literally kill her.

    One aggressive act is easily forgiven. The 2nd was worrisome and so we are not the best environment. The 3rd though is a pattern. Sadly he could be a great dog given the right environment. ..but we are not it nor can I risk another accident. Too many “ifs”. I’ve contacted other group’s but no one can take him in. He’s a victim of circumstance.

    So I am in tears. I’ve thought about taking him back to his first home as they seem to have just thrown him away after 3 years. I’ve thought about searching for another home but that puts my family at risk as well as any adopted family.

    So although I met him only a few weeks ago I will give him the best day ever tomorrow for as long as I can. I want to be mad. I want to blame someone. But instead I will be there and hold him, and love him as I feel like a total failure as he takes his last breath. His face will forever be in my mind. His happy run returning the ball after a good throw will live in my memory. He has touched my heart. I pray he will forgive me and that one day in heaven we can play fetch again.

    Thanks for reading. This has helped me prepare for my worse day ever.

    • You’ve done everything you can, one day you will meet again in heaven he will remember you and the fact that you showed a very damaged dog love and kindness. Take care and know that you’re doing the right thing

    • I think that you are doing totally the right thing, Tim. You have tried to find a suitable home, fully explaining his history, but it just didn’t work out. Passing on a dog like this (or Sam, who I posted about above) without explaining just makes you part of the problem for the dog. It’s a shame that the original owners let him go when the elderly parent moved in but perhaps that’s not the whole story either. I’m sure that his final day will be a great one – just remember the good that you tried to do for him.

  5. I put my beatiful Buddy to sleep via at home euthanasia three weeks ago and continue to be wrecked with quilt and cry daily at the loss of his being. He was 12 or 13 years old, and up until about 4 months ago very active. Actually, still active for his age up until a few weeks. However, after the difficult winter (we were avid walkers and he loved to chase animals in the woods) I began noticing very slow going up the steps and even an odder gait coming down. He would also occassionally experience lameness in his back left leg. But then, seem fine the next day! He had numerous lumps on his body, but at his advanced age I decided to no longer have them checked. When he was 7 he tore his right ACL and after much money and 4 months rehab, we were back in business for a wonderful 5 more years. During that time I would occassionally have a large, non cancerous mass removed if it interfered with his walking ability. But, as he grew older, I promised him no more sedation as he is large and very stubborn, always insisting on jumping in the back seat. No amount of help would be taken by him and no assistance from me was allowed by him. Soon, a month ago he began “missing” his jump in the car. And, on our walks, some quite short, he would need to sit for a while to catch his breath or would just stumble. Then, the next day, looking great with no problem. I began preparing myself and promising I would not let him suffer. The last two days were difficult. He was not eathing and limping. The trip to the vet was hard as he fought the help into the car. The vet said the muscle in his back legs was really not there anymore. They could xray–I said no as it takes him 3 days to recupe from the position of the xray. So, I requested pain medication that would work well with the antiinflammation medication I had been giving him for a year. The following day he would not walk at all (I should also say I had noticed tremors in his front legs when standing still or peeing) and was unable to stand up to go outside. As I sat outside with my thoughts later that morning, I watched him drag himself out with his front legs and just lay at me feet. He would not eat his favorite treats or even cooked hamburger. So, I made the appointmet for that night. We sat outside all day (he still seemed content to have me pet him, he smiled, and remained very alert) and he enjoyed ice cream–the only thing I could get him to eat. I reminded him about all the parks, cabins, trails, and friends he had made over the years–I actually think he understood my words. I told him the vet was coming that night to ease his pain. He never did stand up again and the vet did the process outdoors with his head in my lap. I was at peace at the time. Now, three weeks out, I question my decision every day and think maybe he was just having a really bad day and I should have been able to wait a day or two to ensure my decision. I will never know. It is killing me. I am so happy to have had you Buddy and so sorry if I made a mistake. As a single person, you have been my rock for many years, I wish I could have been yours. I love and miss you.

    • Sue, So sorry for your loss. It sounds as though you are having many of the same thoughts my wife and I are having and we look everyday for answers. I am glad you were able to have Buddy at home when the end came. We ask ourselves if our Zoey wondered why we wouldn’t pick her up and take her home. We did bring bring her home and bury her in a nice spot in the yard where we are able to sit and talk to her. I hope your pain is easing, and just try to remember all the happy memories you and Buddy shared.

      • Hi Scott, I am also so sorry for your loss of Zoey. It is such a difficult decision and I guess there is really no “right” time to let them go–we want to have them forever. I have sought some grief counseling especially related to pets, and am told the guilt we are feeling is normal, as are all of our emotions. The counselor told me he has counseled many people who have guilt for the opposite reason–waiting too long while their pet suffured. I think we can take comfort in the fact that the suffering was short. I suppose we will also second guess our decision as to the timing, but hopefully we can find peace with that decision some day. It is great that you have Zoey in your yard and can visit often! Please be good to yourself and thank you for reaching out to me.

  6. I euthanized my 10 month old hound mix after he suffered a dislocated and fractured hip when hit by a car
    The vet had recommended Femur removal surgery but i thought his quality of life had been significantly impaired. Was i wrong?

    • You dis what you thought was best for what was obviously a very much lived dog. Don’t let the guilt eat you up you did the right thing

      • Thank you Sara! Yes, I’ve been feeling guilty top of just missing him so much. I only wanted what was best for him. The pain I’m feeling is rough but I couldn’t stand to see him suffering through the surgery and long rehab with no assurance of full restoration. I appreciate your kind response.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. Losing a beloved pet is heartbreaking. We found out a week ago our beloved sam. Age 9 had cancer by means of a blood test. He was drinking excessively and having daily accidents. The vet could not help him and we tried some home remedies, ginger and a probiotic. Sadly he declined and stopped eating and we took him back in and thru an exam found out he had a tumor not quite the size of a volleyball in his whole back under region.
    We made the difficult decision of putting him down.

  8. I just posted about my dog Samson.
    Cancer, huge tumor, accidents, stopped eating, put him down 2 days ago. Why do I feel guilt?

  9. We had to part with our beloved dachshund Zoey on Sat. She had lost the use of her limbs and the ability to relieve herself on her own. Our local vet examined her and after X-ray recommended surgery for a disk problem that was pressing on nerves causing paralysis. We found a surgeon and after consultation set up the surgery. The first indication of what would later lead to our decision was during the post surgery phone call from the surgeon. He informed us that after surgery she was unable to breathe on her own and had to be placed on a ventilator and that after a 12 hour period he would try to wean her off. I was able to visit during both periods and during the visit the day after surgery was told by the surgeon she had made great progress and expected to release her after the weekend. During the evening follow up call he now told us that she had grown weaker and again had to be placed on the ventilator overnight. We as a family were to visit Zoey again the next day. During the visit the Dr. Told us that he believed her chances for improvement were slim and that no matter the amount to time or money we were able to expend he could not guaranty a positive outcome. He recommended euthanasia. We talked as a family and decided that we didn’t want our Zoey to suffer any longer and decided to go ahead with the euthanasia.
    She has been gone now almost three days and my wife and I continue to experience such profound grief and guilt that we are almost not able to function. We continue to beat ourselves up over the fact that we did not do right by our Zoey, that maybe there were other options that we didn’t try. We just miss her so much!!

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