6 Signs It’s Time to Put Your Dog to Sleep

Here’s what you need to know about putting your dog to sleep. Veterinarian Marie Haynes shares the most important criteria for putting a dog down and offers help for healing.

6 Signs It's Time to Put a Dog to Sleep

Animals and the Afterlife

One of the best ways to cope with your dog’s death is believing that their souls and spirits live on – and you’ll be reunited one day. Read Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death  to learn how some pet owners experience their beloved animal companions after their pets died.

Are you confused about putting your dog to sleep? You’re not alone if you feel devastated, guilty, sad, and lost. This information about pet euthanasia is from a veterinarian who had to put her own dog to sleep. She shares her story, and offers general information about the process of putting a dog down.

This is the most important thing to remember about putting your dog to sleep: “If you can save your dog or cat even one day of discomfort, you must,” says Dr Haynes.

Is It Time to Put Your Dog to Sleep?

The number one sign it’s time to put your dog to sleep is quality of life. If your dog is suffering in any way, then it’s time to say good-bye.

I hope this article on putting a dog down helps you cope with this difficult decision. I can’t tell you whether or not you should put your dog to sleep – only you can decide. But, this article may give you insight and clarity.

Dr Haynes says it’s often difficult to tell whether a dog is in pain or suffering, but there are some general guidelines it’s time to put your dog to sleep:

time to put dog down

“6 Signs It’s Time to Put a Dog to Sleep” image by Laurie

  1. Is your dog’s appetite suffering? If so, this can be a sign of pain.
  2. Does it seem like your dog is enjoying life?
  3. Does your dog still do the things that bring her joy?
  4. Are you enjoying having your dog around — or is there more pain than happiness?
  5. Does your dog seem happy more often than not?
  6. Does your dog look distressed or uncomfortable most of the time?

Here’s the bottom line about putting a dog down: There will come a day when it is absolutely clear to you that your dog is not enjoying life.  That day is one day too late.  If you can save your dog even one day of discomfort, you must.

As a dog lover, you want a clear answer about putting your dog to sleep, but it can’t just be the veterinarian’s decision. The vet only sees a snapshot of the pet’s life, while the pet owner has the big perspective.

“I see a scared, sick animal in the hospital,” says Dr Haynes. “You have taken care of your dog all its life. This is your final chance to take care of your pet.  If you can spare your dog pain and suffering, then putting it to sleep is the ultimate gift – no matter how hard it is for you.”

Putting your dog to sleep is difficult, but it could be the most loving thing you do for your dog. You can be present when you put your dog to sleep. Euthanasia is similar to falling asleep, and you can be with your dog when he or she drifts away. Dr Haynes says pet euthanasia is generally painless, and almost always goes smoothly.

Do you feel guilty about putting your dog to sleep? Read How Veterinarians Decide It’s Time to Put a Dog Down for guidance.

How Dr Haynes Decided to Put Her Dog to Sleep

“My shepherd/cattle dog cross, Eddie, had a multitude of problems and I couldn’t decide if it was time for euthanasia.  Then, one day he tore his cruciate ligament.  He had already previously torn the ligament on the other knee and although it was healed he had severe arthritis in that knee.  With both knees injured, Eddie was unable to walk.  My decision to put my dog to sleep was finally made for me.

should I put my dog down

6 Signs It’s Time to Put Your Dog to Sleep

I went to my office and collected the supplies I needed for euthanasia.  Eddie was such a good boy as I shaved his front leg and placed the needle in his vein.  I will never forget the look of love and trust he gave me as I made the injection.  Then, the life just went out of him and he was gone.  Once he had passed away, his buddy Joey (my other dog) came in the room but he did not seem to care about or comprehend what was happening.  Then, my two cats came in and I swear they suddenly had a look of glee in their eyes as Eddie was very much a cat tormentor!”

If you’re putting a dog down, remember to allow yourself to grieve. Take time to heal.

Help for Putting Your Dog to Sleep

Losing your dog is a heartbreaking experience. When I wrote Letting Go of an Animal You Love, I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, and pet owners who had to say good-bye to their beloved animal companions.

It’s true that time does ease the pain of having to put a dog or cat to sleep, but it’s also good to learn what helped other people cope with the pain. For instance, I talked to one dog owner who got a paw print tattoo after putting her dog to sleep, as a way to remember her pet. I wouldn’t have thought of a tattoo, but she said she is comforted every time she sees it.

should I put my dog down

Dog Cremation Urn

If you want to keep your dog’s ashes, the Perfect Memorials Dog in Basket – Pet Cremation Urn pictured is a beautiful vessel.

I know it may seem too soon to think about cremation urns for your dog — you may want to stat by reading books about dog loss. Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet is Gary Kowalski’s second book on coping with a dog’s death, and it may help you heal after making the heart-wrenching decision to say good-bye.

And finally, How to Deal With Anger at Your Veterinarian is an article I wrote for a reader struggling to cope after putting her dog to sleep. It’s a difficult decision, but it’s sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for your dog. But this final act of love can be destroyed by a veterinarian who is thoughtless or inept.

If you have any thoughts on putting your dog to sleep, please comment below. I can’t give advice, but writing can help you decide if putting your dog down is the right choice for you.

13 comments On 6 Signs It’s Time to Put Your Dog to Sleep

  • I have a Great Dane. She is 9 years old and has Arthritis and Wobblers syndrome. I have to support her with her back legs because she walks like she’s drunk and sometimes falls over. I’m not a young person. I’m in my mid 50s and have arthritis myself so it is a real strain for me to lift her. When I take her out for walks I literally have to lift her into the car. She walks and stands around looking at people so she loves interacting with the workd. But she can’t stand or walk for longer than five minutes. Everything is becoming a real struggle but I’m coping with it just about. The latest problem is that she soils her bed. Not every day but it’s happening often. I let her out frequently ..sometimes she goes and sometimes she doesn’t. I’m forever buying new beds and cleaning up. I am exhausted. But she eats well and is still happy . She has been a loving and loyal companion to me but I’m really struggling to cope with the soiling and urinating in her bed. Does anyone have any advice for me please to help me manage this in a better way? I want to keep her with me for a long time but my own health is suffering as a consequence this. Any advice to make this easier would be welcome.

  • I see this comment was posted well over a year ago. My 10yr old Great Dane is ditto all
    That is or had happened with your Great Dane . Did you get any advice as my heart is breaking because he eats non stop though has colitis on meds only chicken and rice he can digest . He has severe spinal stenosis one toe amputated last year but healed well. He defecates with out knowing and now we wake with a wet dog bed .. Jude is so happy in his mind I think ?.. he also has a huge mass on one eye my vet feels at his age he would not survive surgery .. How are you today with your Great Dane did you get or make a decision.. sending prayers .. thxs

  • I have a 3.5 year old Lhasa apso who has came out of kennels and been very unwell, no appetite or very little, being sick and just generally clingy. Then a week later she started displaying other signs of shaking, nervousness so much so that she is an absolute wreck, doesn’t sleep and bangs into walls etc as she has no conception of how close things are to her. Having taken her to the vets too many times already and after near enough a weeks no sleep for me they say it could be this and it could be that but all bloods etc came back clear then it was stress – £500 later and my dog is worse then they say it could be meningitis and the cost will be another £250 but they cant be sure.

    Now whilst I don’t mind spending money to get her well I refuse to spend good money after bad especially when my dog has tremors constantly and is certainly having mini seizures. My feeling is put her to sleep but they continue to want more money out of me – what should I do?

    I am so tired and my other dog is now affected with the whole situation as my ill dog demands me all the time and can be aggressive when other one gets too close

  • Great information. I have been adopting dogs and cats for many years so of course I have had to put many down. It is always hard and I always find myself questioning if I could have done something different. One thing people need to realize, often a sick animal will perk up in the hospital when you take them in to be put down. This further burdens my decision. I understand it is just a temporary nervous response but it still pulls at your very core.

    I am now faced with it again. I have a 51/2 year old cattle dog mix that needs my decision. This one is very hard because of his age and the swiftness of his illness. We always knew he would have a shorter life (very inbred from a hoarder), but this was much earlier than we anticipated. I knew when I got up and for the 9th day, no interest in food it was time. We have tried all tests and meds to know avail. The clincher was last night. My 6 year old Sheltie mix spent the whole evening growling under her breath at me. She is his girl and the only one he accepted. It was as if she was telling me to just get it over with and quit stalling.

    It is never easy no matter how many times I go through it, I just try to focus on those I still have. This one will hurt a lot…………

  • “If you can save your dog or cat even one day of discomfort, you must,” just doesn’t cut it as a guideline, sorry. Even a young healthy dog will have days of discomfort. We have an elderly dog who is diabetic, cushingoid, and has kidney problems, and yet he has his up days and down days. If we gave up on him every time he didn’t eat or every time he was experiencing some discomfort then we wouldn’t have witnessed his later springing back and enjoying his days later. So this decision is more difficult than that.

  • Last week I had to make this painful decision to say good-bye to Maggie, my 14 1/2 year old black lab. For the last several years, she had been having some hip issues. She no longer wanted to jump on the bed or climb the stairs to the second floor. But, her quality of life was good as she could still get around and go outside whenever she wanted (I had a pet door that enabled her to go in and out 24/7. Earlier this summer, I noticed she would pant more than normal and as she stood in one place, her hind quarters would start to sag. Finally, last Sunday when she was outside she had trouble walking and she would stumble as she walked. Her hips were giving out. I took her to the Vet the following day to discuss options. Bottom line was she was a senior dog and her condition would not improve and only get worse. So, with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes, I had her put to sleep. I held her in my arms as she drifted off. One of the most painful decisions I ever had to make, but I could not, and would not, let her suffer in pain,

  • I found your web page because I am so torn about my 14 yr old chocolate lab mix that my son and I rescued as a 5 week old puppy. She is one of 3 dogs I have and the one that has been through so much with me. When my son was in Iraq, she cuddled with me and guarded our home with vigor. Many times she saved me but I can’t save her and now in the last few days after losing weight rapidly, she has a hugely swollen abdomen and rear leg. She doesn’t move much but doesn’t excessively pant or show signs of pain but lies around more and doesn’t get up to go out with me like she use to so I hate to kill her but if she is in pain, I don’t want that either. We are on our way to the vet in the morning but I’m still unsure about what to do. Thanks for giving me food for thought.

  • i cannot express the grief i am feeling at this moment. my best girl, Cinnamon, a 15 year old lab mix has deteriorated to the point she is unable to do anything without assistance due to neuropathic problems.

    Doc is uncertain where/how the problems began, and has been heroic in assisting and advising us on caring for them.

    we have managed her disease for over 2 years, but recently, she has developed problems with food and water consumption. Feeding a couple of pieces of kibble at a time, we can get enough food in to sustain her, but water is a problem.

    i cannot determine she’s in pain, that hasn’t been an issue, if it were, and was uncontrollable, we would have euthanized her long ago… but we’ve carried on best we can.

    this morning is the time, i am about to go through the process of getting us ready to go and in a short time, she will be gone from us. we are going to try to go for one last walk, one we’ve taken each day for the past 15 years, as far as i am able to get her. We will have one last piece of fruit and a little breakfast, then a drive to the Dr.

    this is extremely sorrowful for me. i’ve euthanized pets before that were terminally ill and in pain, i’ve had several pass on from natural causes, but this is the first that is completely healthy, medically, but has lost coordination and become invalid.

    it never occurred to me 15 years ago when i brought her home that anything like this would ever happen. i will hold her while she leaves as i did when i brought her home from the dump at 6 weeks old.

    i won’t be alone when i arrive home, i have 2 other lab mixes i’ve rescued, a 10 year old and a 5 year old. both are presently healthy and fit, but all i can think of when i look at them, is the sorrow of losing them, down the road.

    thank you for listening to me and after reading what i’ve written here, i hope you consider my frame of mind if its difficult to make sense of.

  • As I write you this letter you are sleeping on your bed by my side. You have being in my life, by my side for the past 12 years. Thank you for all those years.
    You were there by my side when I was sad and crying. You will look at me with those eye telling me everything will be fine. You were there when I was happy and smiling. Moving your tail and smiling with your eyes.
    You always wait for me every night until I get home even if I am gone for a night or more.
    You don’t go to bed until I do, you will wait by my side when I’m working late.
    You never go out for a walk if I am not going, even thought you love to go for walks.
    You are always happy to see me, if I’m gone for a minute or for a month.
    I know you love me, you are my shadow and follow me all day long. the only thing you love more than me is food, oh yes you do love food more than me 🙂
    You see my boy I’m writing you this letter because your time with me is coming to an end and I want to tell you what a wonderful companion you have always being. I don’t want to think about that moment. I don’t want that moment to be here. But my boy that is the cycle of life. I love you my boy and I’m going to miss you. Thank you for all your unconditional love.”

    My 12 year old beagle is having seizures and there are tumors all over his body. I know the time has come for him to rest, but it’s so hard to let go. He still eats and seem to be ok but it hurts when I see him having those seizures. Today he had one and can hardly walk now, they are getting worse and are happening more often. English is my second language, so pardon me if my writing isn’t perfect. Thank you for letting me post this letter for him here. I feel I needed to do something like this.

  • My fellow dog lovers, it has been 4 days since my beautiful boy Barney went to sleep. I have had such a mixed bag of emotions and questions.
    Did I give up on him too quickly? I then recall the look in his eyes when I said goodbye and know he didn’t want any more pain, it would have been for selfish reasons to try and prolong the inevitable.
    Why did it have to happen so quick? One weekend he was playing as usual then he’s gone? I then thank my blessings that we did not have to watch him suffer for a long time, as always Barney was being faithful and caring.
    Luckily I still have my other boy Basil, he has been such a comfort. I thought he would be pining too much but he is good, eating, enjoying walks and play. I sometimes see him staring in the air and think he must be thinking of Barney, his best friend. But then I think Basil knew well before we did and has prepared himself.
    My other question is did I do the right thing having him in a communal cremation? The chance was there to have his ashes and I didn’t take it. Was I not so heartbroken as others who do this? I did though keep a lock of his fur. I take it out every night and kiss it, I can still smell him.
    Having never had kids we look on our boys as our kids and Barney was my “first born”.
    I am in shock, I am in mourning, I am in tears. But what’s more important to remember is Barney is at peace, until we meet again.
    Missing you terribly my boy.
    I am in my late forties, have never used the Internet for any social networking, never been on Facebook, twitter or whatever, but since I found this forum I have appreciated the channel it has given me.

  • I have a 14 year old Yellow Labrador Retriever that has had a wonderful life but the past couple of months he has started to go down hill. He has had arthritis for years and has been taking medication for it but yesterday he just could not get up. He finally did but it was a huge effort and today he it is like he is telling me that it is time for him to go. He seems to know. He has lost bladder control for the first time last night and today it is worse. He always loved to play in the sprinkler and would spend hours biting it and letting it soak him so we thought we would let him do that one last time. He finally was able to get up and he went out in the yard and went over to the sprinkler and looked like he was having fun for a minute, and then he came back in and laid down. I love him like a son and I am crying a lot. But I know that his quality of life has deteriorated over the past 24 hours to the point that I could never forgive myself for his discomfort. I called the vet and told them today and we will go at 8:00 in the morning tomorrow. I will keep him as comfortable as I can until then. All of a sudden he just really went down. I knew this time was coming but I did not think the process would just accelerate so fast. My son and my wife will go with me tomorrow, I will need help getting him into the car.
    Some people ask how can you go through this? The answer is simple, I have had 14 wonderful years with him and there is nothing in life that is worth more than that. I love him so much and he loves me even more.
    I have a Golden Retriever that is 4 years old and he is going to miss him as much as I do, so we will go out and look at puppies. I will have another dog but this one has touched my life like no other has or ever will.
    I hope that when the day comes for me to leave this life that I will see him again.

  • I just said goodbye to my doggie Chloe, yesterday. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. She was a black miniature schnauzer, our first baby, she was 15 years old. She was mostly deaf and couldn’t see very well either. She had been having problems with incontinence, mainly at night so I started putting a diaper on her and that helped but she hated the diapers. She was slower going up and down stairs and we got her started on rimadyl for possible arthritic pain. I knew the day was coming when I would have to say goodbye and tried so hard to prepare myself. She started having trouble with the tile kitchen floor, her feet would slip out and she would not be able to get back up again. Sometimes she would pee and then lay in it. I always felt bad for her but would help her up and give her a bath. Then last Thursday she went outside like usual down the deck steps, I kept telling my husband that pretty soon she won’t be able to do the steps anymore and we will have to start letting her out in the front yard. This time she did not come back up the steps and I had to go looking for her. She was sitting on the patio so I carried her up. She was having a lot of trouble standing with her back legs. She didn’t seem in pain, just couldn’t really control the back legs. So I brought her to the vet and she said that she thought it was probably neurological because she would sometimes stand with her paw flipped under instead of on the pads of her feet and she wouldn’t instinctively flip her foot the right way. She said that we could do an xray to see if she had a back injury but the treatment for that would be surgery and I would never put her through that. I cried and cried at the vet and told her I would call her after I spoke with my husband. I brought Chloe home and agonized over what to do. Friday she struggled and fell over a lot but would still eat really good. Otherwise she was mostly in her bed. I carried her out to go potty and a few times she fell over trying to poop. I made the decision to have the vet come out Monday. Then I agonized over the decision all weekend, wanting to cancel the appt because I didn’t want to let her go. She seemed better on Saturday and Sunday maybe because she was getting all the attention and treats, I was so close to postponing it, but I thought of what would happen if I did, if she would have suffered. I keep telling myself that I did the right thing because she could have had a much worse death and wasn’t really living. I think it’s hard for me to really see how bad she was, I’m in denial and I have to keep reminding myself over and over that she was 15, she lived a good long life, she had a good weekend with me before she left, I held her and petted her and gave her all the food she wasn’t allowed to have before. She died with a belly full of bacon. Still I agonize over my decision. Everyone I have lost before has been sudddenly, my father and mother, but with this I made the decision. And I know people say that it is a loving one, I still feel such guilt and grief. Please respond with your thoughts. I could really use anothers perspective.

  • My Jack Russell is 13. We’ve had her since she was 1 year old. She started having seizures about 3 months ago. She’s on 2 different seizure meds. Medicine for her liver and urinary frequency. She urinates in her sleep. She has accidents all over the house. I need advice on when it’s time that we put her to sleep.

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