Putting Your Dog “To Sleep” – The Last Act of Love and Kindness

It’s a sad fact of life, but a dog’s life is always shorter than a humans , so we know from the start that we are going to have to deal with heartbreak of losing them at some point.

Loss of a beloved pet is one of the most painful experiences anyone can bear, but I don’t think anyone should deny themselves the absolute joy, unconditional love and loyalty that ONLY owning a dog brings. 

When Is It Time to “Put My Dog To Sleep?”

“Putting my dog to sleep” or “putting my dog down” are softer, more common terms for euthanizing a dog by lethal injection, for a terminally ill or suffering pet.

This is the hardest question that we all have to face because it’s not a case of “if” but “when”.

Your veterinarian can provide an objective point of view based on their medical condition and long-term prognosis of a specific illness/condition, but you know your pet better than anyone. You are the one that sees your pet every day, understands how they’re coping, can recognize changes in their ‘normal’ behaviour and therefore the final decision is down to you.

Sometimes, the decision is mercifully more clear-cut:

  • When a dog is in severe, chronic pain which can’t be relieved
  • When a dog is critically injured and won’t be able to survive the damage
  • If a dog’s quality of life is so poor that he/she is merely ‘existing’ not ‘living’

More often than not though, there’s never a clear-cut answer and we can easily become overwhelmed as we wrestle with our feelings of self-doubt and guilt, but it generally centers around evaluating your pet’s “quality of life”.

Veterinarian Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM offered this guidance: “It is probably ‘time’ when the bad days begin to outnumber the good ones. Pet owners usually have an idea of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the life of their pet. Chart time over a week or month.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating your pet’s quality of life:

  • Does your pet soil him/herself during the day? This can really be a stressor for some pets who prefer to be clean, and it can also pose health risks – i.e. skin rashes and infections from sitting in urine and/or faeces.
  • Does your pet still enjoy “basic activities” such as eating? Is the appetite normal?
  • Does your pet enjoy human interaction? Is s/he still cognizant of who you are?
  • Can your pet move around without difficulty or pain?
  • Does medication/treatment no longer relieve their symptoms/pain?
  • Has your dog become aggressive to the point of being dangerous, and training, behavioral modifications and other treatments haven’t helped?
  • Could your dog survive for some time to come, but their life will be full of vet visits, painful treatments, anxiety and stress… with no hope of recovery, just management? In other words, they are just ‘surviving’ not ‘living’.

All of the above clearly shows that there is no single answer – We can only do our best. But, if you feel your own emotions are perhaps getting in the way of making a decision, then share your concerns with your veterinarian or one of the groups mentioned in the ‘Moving On’ and ‘Rainbow Bridge’ sections below.

How can I ensure my dog doesn’t suffer at the end?

We all want to help our beloved pet leave this world as calmly and peacefully and thankfully this is now possible by asking your veterinarian to follow the “Humane Euthanasia Protocol” (Please note that this is not mandatory protocol, so be sure to specifically request it).

Basically, there are 2 steps to this euthanasia procedure:

Step 1 –  A sedative/tranquilizer/pain-reliever (or combination of these) is administered – whilst this is taking effect, it gives you time to say your final goodbyes and hold your pet as they seem to gently fall to sleep.

Step 2 – The veterinarian will administer the final drug by injection which will stop the heart.

Following these steps ensures that your dog doesn’t become scared or stressed, and they don’t feel any pain as they pass away. It’s also worth taking their favorite blanket and/or toy to help them relax in otherwise sterile surroundings.

It’s undoubtedly the most humane form of dog euthanasia.

There are additional costs involved because multiple drugs are used, but it’s not prohibitive and giving your best friend a pain-free passing is more than worth it.

 Moving On

This is often easier said than done and non-dog owning friends, struggle to understand the level of grief. What they don’t realize is it’s NOT ‘just a dog’, but an important member of the family. And for single fur-parents, their dog has been their best friend, confidante, shoulder to cry on, companion – through the good times and the bad.

It is impossible to replace your dog, but it is possible to replace the unconditional love that only dogs can provide. Also, no two dogs are exactly the same; they have their own personalities and quirky characteristics.

Also, after allowing myself time to grieve, I have personally found it helped to fill the aching void in my heart and life, by rescuing another dog – showering my love on them and enjoy the feeling that I am saving another faithful friend from a caged life (and potential lonely death, without ever having experienced a loving home).

Our lost furry friends will always have a special place in our hearts, but eventually the sadness is replaced with happy memories.

The Rainbow Bridge

More than any other prose, The Rainbow Bridge has probably been the one to bring most comfort and solace to dog owners trying to come to terms with the loss of their beloved pet.

The story originates from Norse legend, but many authors have claimed ownership and there have been various new editions published since. All however, depict a beautiful, green and lush landscape “just this side of heaven” called Rainbow Bridge, where all beloved pets go to when they die.

If you’ve never heard of this poem then please read the Original Rainbow Bridge poem here.

I recently came across a website, created by Tony Bacon called rainbowbridgeonline.com. It’s a website dedicated to pet loss, or more specifically, pet memorial – remembering our pets who are waiting at Rainbow Bridge. They are a community of like-minded animal lovers who want to immortalize the lives and memories of furry family members online forever, whilst helping and supporting others who have also felt the heartache and pain of losing a friend or two themselves.

There are also various poems that really help the grieving and healing process. I particularly love one written by Tony himself called ‘A Single Tear’, which is a poem about Rainbow Bridge from your pet’s point of view. Click the link below to read more.


Additional Help for You

If you are struggling to come to terms with your loss, you may find some additional support on the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) website http://aplb.org/

Their services are free and they are all professionally trained volunteers in pet bereavement counseling. Their own pet loss brought them together, and in honor of their pets, they wanted to help others going through the same sad experience.

I am truly sorry if you are currently facing the imminent decision-making process, or already suffering the loss, but I also hope this will help you through the bad times and that as dog-lovers, we understand that our furry friends are forever in our hearts and will never leave us.




Helen Broadley & The FidoActive Team