Pet Euthanasia: When Is the Right Time?

Surrender can sometimes be the greatest gift.

Recently we had to say goodbye to a beloved family member. Junior was a sweet old dog who lived a good life. He told us when it was time to go. We didn’t want to hear it, but the message was loud and clear. He had a boatload of health issues, all of which we were willing to help him with for as long as he was willing to fight the good fight. But now he had stopped eating and drinking and could barely get up on all fours. It was time.

This is not the first dog I’ve had to put to sleep. It probably won’t be the last, either. It’s not an easy choice to make, but often it’s a kindness. It’s always heartbreaking, but often, it’s the right thing to do.

When this subject comes up, the conclusion most of my loved ones seem to make is that it’s related to quality of life. When your pet is no longer experiencing a good quality of life, then it’s time to put them down.

It sounds so simple. But quality of life is pretty darned relative, when you think about it. Some people will put up with a lot more pain and suffering than others will, and they seem to use the same yardstick on their pets. The ultimate choice lies with the pet owner.

Personally, I’ve been horrified to see how long some people will make their dogs suffer, simply because they don’t want to say goodbye. They seem to overlook the fact that it isn’t about them. Or at least it shouldn’t be. No animal should suffer simply because you can’t let go. When you take on the responsibility of pets, you become the arbiter of their well-being.

Let’s talk about heroic measures for a minute. Certainly, if there is a treatment that will cure your dog’s ailment completely, then definitely go for it. But I’ve seen people put dogs through chemotherapy for a cancer that is so far advanced that these treatments will simply prolong the animal’s suffering without preventing the inevitable. I’ve seen dogs reduced to a wailing bundle of skin and bones for no good reason at all. That’s just cruel and selfish.

I wish euthanasia were more acceptable for humans, if I’m honest. I watched my mother suffer needlessly for two long years before she finally died. Most of the time, especially toward the end, she was so tranked out on morphine that she didn’t know where she was or who we were. I wouldn’t have treated a dog the way my mother was treated.

Ultimately, with pets, the decision is yours. It’s a good idea to consider the counsel of your veterinarian and your loved ones, as you may not be seeing things clearly through your profound distress. But in the end, this is a choice only you can make. And unfortunately, it’s a rare occasion when you can feel confident that you didn’t act too quickly or not quickly enough. The second guessing can be the worst part of all, but it’s your burden to bear.

My best piece of advice is to take you and your emotions out of the equation. Look into your pet’s eyes. Imagine what they’re experiencing. And then ask yourself whether you’d want to live like that.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve made this final choice for the dogs I’ve loved.

  • Mocha had a cancerous tumor on her side that was the size of a cantaloupe. It was so fast growing that it hadn’t been there a few weeks before. For a short time, it didn’t seem to bother her. But then it did, and she told me so.

  • Sugar was extremely old, had had several strokes, lost the function of her back legs, and had to be carried outside for her frequent need to urinate. I was happy to do that for her, but she’d have suffered needlessly while I was at work.

  • Charley had bone cancer, and while she was fine part of the time, when the pain came it was excruciating, and nothing the vet tried helped.

  • When I took Karenin into the vet, thinking he had a bad cold or something, they determined that he had lost 70 percent of his liver function.

  • Blue had hemolytic anemia that wasn’t responding to treatment, and he was rapidly wasting away.

  • The sac around Devo’s heart had filled with blood. They said he wasn’t in pain, but he became increasingly sleepy and nonresponsive as he was struggling to get oxygen. They said they could drain the sac, but it would fill up again. I think he died of a broken heart due to the loss of his best friend Blue.

If you are reading this because you have to make this hard choice, I’m sorry. Please remember that your pet knows he or she is loved. Please put their needs ahead of your own. Make an informed decision. Definitely fight the good fight with your furry friend. But know that surrender may ultimately be the greatest gift and the most loving act you can perform.

Looking Back at Junior
Rest in Peace, Junior. We love you.

Check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times.


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

10 thoughts on “Pet Euthanasia: When Is the Right Time?”

  1. I am so sorry to hear about Junior, Barb and Cris. The pain is horrible, I know, having just lost our granddad Boogie two weeks ago. His situation sounds a lot like yours with Mocha; he “suddenly” had a cantaloupe-sized tumor in his belly. It came on seemingly within a few days but looking back, Jade realized the signs had been there but she hadn’t recognized them. The kids rushed him to a 24-hour vet and he had a heart attack on the table. It was right before he was going to get the euthanasia. It’s been a rough time; Boogie was 12 and had been part of our family since 8 weeks. 😦

  2. In Washington state and Oregon, voters have approved a Death with Dignity law that allows a patient that’s been diagnosed as terminal to end their own life. There are specific steps that must be followed, two physicians involved along with waiting periods, but this has allowed people to end their pain. And I voted to make this a legal option.

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