How Veterinarians Decide It’s Time to Put a Pet Down

You don’t feel know how to decide to put your pet down, so you talk to a veterinarian. Here’s how the veterinarian might know it’s the right decision.

How Veterinarians Decide It’s Time to Put a Pet DownTo prepare for the loss of your pet, read There Are No Sad Dogs in Heaven: Finding Comfort After the Loss of a Pet by Sonya Fitzpatrick. Knowing your dog is resting in peace will help with the grieving process after your dog dies.

“One great myth of veterinary practice is that the veterinarian somehow knows ‘the right time.’ Part of that belief, I’m sure, is the client’s understandable urge to escape the responsibility for taking the life of a loved one. In all the euthanasias I’ve performed, no ‘owner’ ever asked me whether he should or could depress the plunger on the syringe that will kill the animal with whom they’ve shared their lives. Just once, I would’ve liked someone to move my hand off the syringe, say, ‘This is for me to do,” and relieve me of the weight of even one additional soul.”

That’s from Unsaid: A Novel by Neil Abramson. It’s a novel – a wonderful, heartbreaking, lovely book about life and death, medical experimentation on chimpanzees, research, and the clash of law and ethics. Not to mention relationships between horses, pigs, dogs, and humans – and even some laughter! I loved the book.

Abramson’s comments (through the eyes of the vet in the book) on how veterinarians decide it’s time to put a dog or cat down resonated with me deeply.

How Veterinarians Decide It’s Time to Put a Pet Down

In Should You Put Your Dog to Sleep? A Veterinarian’s Advice, hundreds of readers ask for help deciding it’s time to put their pet down. I almost always encourage them to take their dog or cat to the vet, who can help them decide if it’s time to say good-bye.

But it turns out that veterinarians aren’t much more equipped than you or me to decide if it’s time to put your pet down.

You know your pet better than the veterinarian does

“You’ve lived with this animal for years,” writes Abramson in Unsaid. “You’ve laughed and cried with it, talked to it, eaten with it, and more likely than not, shared your bed with it. What makes you think I’m better equipped than you to judge when your companion wants to end its life? Show me someone who wants their vet to determine the right moment for death and I’ll show you a coward.”

Another veterinarian told me something similar. She said owners spend far more time with their dogs and cats than vets do, yet they expect the veterinarian to make the final decision to put your pet down. I think this is because it’s such a painful, heartbreaking decision for the owner – not for the pet! Your dog or cat may in fact be relieved to be released from his or her body.

Is your dog or cat telling you it’s time to say good-bye?

In the three paragraphs I’m sharing from Unsaid, the veterinarian twice mentions that your pet may be telling you it’s time to die. She says, “when your companion wants to end its life” in the above paragraph, and “what does your companion animal want you to do?” in the paragraph below. Your dog or cat may be telling you it’s time to go, but you can’t admit or accept it. This is normal! We move away from pain, not towards it. We don’t want to lose our beloved animals.

The questions veterinarians often ask to decide if it’s time

Below are the veterinarian’s questions in Unsaid, which can help you decide if it’s time to put your pet down: “I would ask my long-ago learned quality-of-life questions: How is the dog acting? Is he eating and drinking? Does he go to the door to greet you when you come home? Does your cat still like catnip, chase shadows, use the litter pan? These queries are all designed to get the answer to one question – what does your companion animal want you to do? Is the continuation of life too painful? Is defecating and urinating on itself too embarrassing? Does it still like life enough to want to live?”

You need to figure out what your dog has already decided.

What does your pet want you to do?

You’ve taken good care of your dog or cat (although if you feel guilty for occasionally yelling at or getting mad at your pet, you’re not alone!). You’ve provided food, shelter, love, health checks, medications, and annual vaccinations. You make sure your pet is safe all day and night. Now it’s time to take care of your pet in a different way – which may be no less loving or kind! In fact, putting a pet down may be more compassionate and loving than other acts of care. You may be saving your dog or cat from suffering more.

What do you think? I think I’d still want my veterinarian to decide it’s time to put my dog or cat down.

If you’ve had a bad experience with a vet, read How to Deal With Anger at the Veterinarian.

Help coping with pet loss

In Letting Go of an Animal You Love – 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss, I share wisdom from veterinarians, grief experts, counsellors, and owners who survived their pet’s death. Their stories and insights may help you cope with the loss of your pet – and help you decide it’s time.

Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends’ Journey Beyond Death is an interesting book about how some owners experienced their pets after death. It sometimes helps to believe that their souls and spirits are there, waiting to meet us again…

We share ideas to encourage women over 40 to make positive changes and Blossom in a new season of life!

5 comments On How Veterinarians Decide It’s Time to Put a Pet Down

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    to Debra, Alice, Susan and Terri….. we all have dogs in the ‘same condition’… My small poodle does all those same things.- follows me when we walk because she cannot see well enough to lead me… she hears absolutely nothing. but dogs just keep on keeping on with whatever they CAN do. even if it hurts… She is 14 1/2… was a ‘producer’ at a puppy mill prior to being rescued. Has had great care, and has just grown so ‘distant’ — she is not really there. Does not want to eat and won’t until she is very very hungry. spend most mornings cleaning floors and carpets (She gets up during the night ) and I feel very sure she feels guilty about that she just looks at me like she is sorry… I have reached the point where I realize that she does not relish the life she is living, and that I must let her go… and I truly believe all dogs go to Heaven….I too am mourning her loss before she is gone.

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    I was comforted to read the similar stories. I have a miniature Rat terrier that is almost 17. She is deaf, almost blind and wanders aimlessly at night. I am certain she has dementia and also relieves herself throughout the house as she feels the urge. She is not herself but I don’t want to feel I put her down out of convenience for myself. She does not seem to be in any pain so I am struggling with the thought of putting her down. I would appreciate any updates you may have and how you feel about them now.

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    You made a good point that it’s the owner’s choice and not the veterinarian’s when it’s time to put your pet down. My dog has been suffering from liver failure for a month now and he has gotten to the point that he doesn’t even want to eat anymore. Maybe it would be best to start weighing out the possibility of putting him down soon.

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    My 14 year old mini sch sized was diagnosed with canine dementia. She is very deaf and almost blind. She still eats well and until a few days ago was doing well having no accidents. We purchased some new expensive dog food and although it’s been 4 day since having it,, she has had constant diarrhea. I have a vet appt today. She is glad when I come home but no longer bounces up to greet me and wanders in circles and does not sleep at night. I am crying as I write this because I don’t think she is in pain but she is no longer herself. I had to put her in the kitchen last night and this morning, she had numerous bouts of diarrhea. I am so torn.

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      Hi Susan. I feel your pain also. My Maltese is almost 13 and now deaf and almost blind. He now wears a diaper because he goes when he feels the urge. He is constantly hurting himself and actually just fell down the stairs a few moments ago. He has lost most of his teeth, but still tries to eat. He looks for me constantly and cries and whines if he doesn’t think I’m near. And sometimes I am right behind him. He’s just not himself and I am already mourning for the dog that has been my best friend for all his life.

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