HEALTH & CARE

Putting Dog to Sleep: Learn How to Deal With This Difficult Decision

Dog at the vet going to sleep
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

Putting dog to sleep is most definitely one of the hardest decisions that people who love and own a canine pet must take. If you are reading this, you might have to decide in this regard or you just want to be informed in case you will ever be put in this position. Separating yourself from a being that was with you for a long period of time is not at all easy, but taking such decision is your responsibility. Although it is a terrible aspect, it is part of life and all we can do is to remember that it is the right choice.

When you first buy or adopt a puppy, you should prepare yourself for a painful and unpleasant situation like this one. This is a personal decision, but not something you must go through alone. It is recommended to count on your family’s help, as well as your friends’ help and your veterinarian’s help. It goes without saying that a veterinarian is the only specialized person who can tell you if there are other options besides the saddest one.

When deciding, try to think of your dog’s well-being in the first place and leave your grief for the second place. Many dog owners keep their canine friend alive because of selfishness and thus they torture it without knowing. The quality of life is important for people, so why not give it credit in case of dogs as well?

Why should a dog be put to sleep?

Taking a decision like euthanasia must be done with the utmost seriousness and understanding of the situation. The reasons why a veterinarian might advise you to do that are divided in 3 main categories, as it follows:

  1. A dog is in agonizing pain and there is nothing left to do in order to alleviate its condition.
  2. A dog is really sick and it is kept alive with medical equipment only.
  3. A dog is very old or very aggressive or uncontrollable.

If your dog is unable to do the things it used to do together with you and with your family, if it doesn’t react as well as it used to, or if there is more pain in its life than health or pleasure, then it would be advisable to consider euthanasia.

Also, if your canine friend has an illness that cannot be cured, or if it is seriously injured with very low possibilities of healing, then euthanasia might be the best option it has. Suffering more because of surgical interventions or ineffective painkillers that lead to its death anyway is worthless, so choosing the right time when to put a dog to sleep is crucial.

Old dog going to ethernal sleep

Any veterinarian understands your attachment to your doggy and he or she would not recommend putting it to sleep for no serious reason. A vet examines a dog and assesses its health state, as well as its chances to recover. This specialist can tell you all about the short term problems and the long term ones, explaining every option, effect and consequence. However, he or she is not allowed or able to decide for you.

In case you do not fully understand what is wrong with your dog, ask the vet to explain that once more. Do not miss the opportunity to fully understand every detail about your pet’s condition. Understanding and being fully aware of its condition can make your decision-making process easier and you could be more at peace with yourself. Situations like this don’t usually require an immediate answer, so you would normally have time to think.

If you decide in favor of euthanasia, the next step you must take is to talk to your family and with the vet about the possibilities you have regarding its dead body. Your options are multiple. You could cremate it or burry it, depending on your customs and traditions.

What if the dog is healthy?

Unfortunately, there is one case in which whether or not the dog is healthy is not important. This case is when a dog becomes dangerous, unmanageable and extremely violent.

Aggressive dog

However, an unwanted behavior or an abnormal one can be changed in most situations. If this happens to you, you should first try all the options to bring your dog’s behavior back to normal and only think of euthanasia if every attempt fails. You were once able to control it, so you should be able to do it again if you do your best in this regard and look for possible solutions for your dog’s problem.

How is a dog put to sleep?

Euthanasia has two stages. The first stage consists of the introduction of anesthetic through the dog’s veins, which is meant to deactivate its mind and its reflexes. The second stage consists of the administration of powerful drugs that stop its heartbeat and its breathing process. The order of these two stages is always the same.

Otherwise, if a vet resorts to the second stage only, the dog suffers. This is because it would not be asleep and numb. It would suffocate before it dies. The anesthetic can be administered through the dog’s veins or intramuscularly. The intravenous shot puts it to sleep in less than 1 minute, while the other one takes up to 20 minutes to work.

Euthanasia first stage

Conducted according to all the medical requirements, the process of euthanasia begins by blocking the dog’s ability to perceive pain and then it stops the dog’s vital functions. However, these two processes can happen simultaneously as well, in a shorter amount of time. The means of euthanasia approved by veterinarians vary because they take into account the particularities of every breed, their response to various chemical factors and mechanical factors, but also the practical features of handling the process.

How does a dog’s body react?

When a dog is euthanized, it dies. The death of a body is defined the same for both humans and dogs. It is the cessations of the vital functions, namely breathing and heartbeat. Stopping these two generates hypoxia, insufficient oxygenation of all tissues, which cannot energetically sustain all the biochemical processes. Thus, the cellular death occurs too.

The needle is inserted in a vein from the dog’s front or back leg. If the dog in question is really sick, it takes a little while for the vet to locate its vein. Once the serum is injected, it takes about 5 minutes until the dog dies. After the injection, the dog’s heart stops and its muscles will relax or contract. If the dog’s muscles relax, this can lead to the elimination of a quantity of feces and urine.

Putting a dog to sleep

These muscle contractions appear involuntarily, as spasms. In case you choose to stay in the room with your canine friend while it is put to sleep, you must be aware of these aspects. It might sound unbearable, but it is better to be prepared. Such reactions should not worry you. Remember that your dog is dead when the muscular reactions occur. Another important aspect is that its eyes will not close after it dies, so you can close them yourself, but don’t be fooled it is still alive. This information should prepare you for your dog’s final moments.

Where should I put my dog to sleep?

Euthanasia is a very simple medical process, so it can be done at home, but also at the vet’s office. There are advantages and disadvantages regarding both options. If you want this to be done at home, your dog would be much more relaxed and calm, especially if the procedure will take place in its favorite spot. In this case, it could be more difficult for you because you will always know where your best canine friend died. If you feel this is the best option, however, you should properly prepare by checking out article on euthanizing your dog at home.

Conversely, if you choose the vet’s office, it might be easier for you to get over your dog’s death. However, there is no intimacy and comfort at the vet’s office. You could make it feel more like home by bringing the dog’s toys or other items like blankets.

How should I say goodbye?

Saying goodbye to your loyal canine friend is really important because it contributes to the way you control your feelings of sadness, suffering and loss. Feeling like you lose a member of the family is natural, so don’t be alarmed. A pet is part of a human’s life just as another human is.

Saying goodbye

The difference is that sometimes pets die sooner than anyone would ever want. As soon as the decision is made, you and your family should say goodbye to your pooch. Regardless of how hard it is, this ensures closure, which is an aspect that should not be neglected.

How should I cope with my loss?

It is normal to feel sad after you put your dog to sleep. Your grieving process should include the acceptance of reality, more specific the painful feelings and the adaptation to a life without your dog in it. There are many ways in which man expresses his or her suffering. Sometimes, people tend to deny the health problems of their dogs just before they are scheduled to euthanasia. A result of denial is often anger. They can become angry at their closest friends or family members or even at the vet. They often say things they don’t mean and hurt the people around them.

Some blame themselves for not being more careful about their dogs’ health conditions. Also, they can feel guilt and depression. During moments like these, the feeling of loss is the greatest. If this is you, you can cry and let it all out, thinking that it will get easier with time.

Should I get another dog?

As a consequence of having to put their best canine friend to sleep, some people will never get another dog. They will not get involved emotionally with another canine pet or another type of pet either. On the other hand, there are people who can get over a dog’s death if they have another pooch to play with and fill their free time with. Another dog can help them get over sadness faster. Having a new pet does not mean that you replace the lost one. You would only have another soul that you can take care of and offer a home for. This is not betrayal.

Should I keep my dog’s stuff?

This is also an aspect that differs from one person to the other. When a human dies, people close to him or her can choose to keep things just the way they were or to completely change everything to make it seem the individual who died was never there. Since the period between birth and death is much shorter in dogs than in humans, a dog owner should be prepared for his or her dog’s death because it is a stage part of the life cycle, which cannot be avoided. Its impact should be met with compassion and understanding.

Remembering the nice times spent with your dog could be a positive thing. In this way, you can notice how happy your dog was with you. Also, you can do plenty of wonderful things to honor its memory. You can plant a tree or flowers; make a photo album or even donations to dog shelters in its memory. There are many souls that could use your help!

Dog love

In conclusion, a dog’s need to be euthanized can occur unexpectedly or because of old age and it must be handled with objectivity and compassion. The process of putting your dog to sleep is not painful or conscious. Therefore, you can follow the vet’s instructions regarding it and try to be less selfish and more thoughtful regarding your dog’s condition.

Say goodbye and don’t skip over the grieving process if you want the sadness and the empty whole in your soul to disappear as soon as possible. This is a horrible situation, but you can get over it!

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

  • Sarah Blayne

    Putting a dog down to sleep is really difficult. Making the decision to do it is heart-wrenching. Our 14 year old Labrador is experiencing so much pain because of his arthritis. There are days when getting up is more difficult than ever. He cries and whimpers each time the pain is unbearable. Our vet has discussed putting our dog to sleep. When it was time to do so, it was so painful.

    • Indeed, Sarah. Putting a dog down is one of the hardest aspects of being a pet parent and a veterinarian. It is heavy on the heart, and it really, really takes a long while before you can completely get over it. The only thing we can do after this moment is to dwell on the better moments. 14 years is quite a feat and not all dogs can reach this wonderful age.

  • John

    I sincerely sympathize with putting a dog down to sleep.. We had such a difficult time putting to sleep our 3 year old dog – she had a disease that couldn’t be cured. It still doesn’t feel like justification though?

    • Wyatt Robinson

      It is extremely tough to justify because it is only a one-way decision, there is no turning back. However, prolonging a living creature’s suffering will really push you to decide its fate. A really difficult and sensitive topic to talk about.

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