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Canine Euthanasia

Canine euthanasia - putting your dog to sleep - is a personal and often difficult decision which unfortunately many dog parents have to make at some point. This page looks at some frequently asked questions concerning dog euthanasia.

When our dogs are getting older, or have been diagnosed with a progressive incurable disease such as cancer, we will eventually have to face the hard decision of ending our dogs' life. Canine euthanasia is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions for both dog parents and veterinarians to make.

Canine Euthanasia - When is the Right Time?

Dogs in Sunset

The most frequently asked question about canine euthanasia is - When is the right time to let go?

It is no doubt extremely difficult to say when is the "right time" to put your dog to sleep. Veterinarians tell us that when a dog is suffering from a painful and progressive condition for which there is no hope of betterment, and when life ceases to be enjoyable, then perhaps at this time we should consider helping the dog die painlessly and peacefully. In other words, we should seriously consider euthanasia when our dogs are suffering and no longer have a good quality of life.

To determine if a dog is still enjoying a good or reasonable quality of life, veterinarians suggest that we should ask ourselves these questions:
  • Is the dog having more good days than bad days?
  • Can he still do the things he loves to do best?
  • Is he in pain or discomfort that cannot be relieved?
  • Is he eating and drinking?
  • Can he relieve himself?
  • Can he recognize his family members? Or does he fail to recognize them? (e.g. by showing signs of aggression)
In addition to the above quality-of-life issues, practical issues such as the costs of treatment, including medications, to prolong the dog's life, and the time and energy required to look after the dog will also need to be considered.

How is Canine Euthanasia Done?

Euthanasia is usually done in the veterinary clinic, although some veterinarians will perform it at the dog's family home if requested.

Euthanasia is accomplished by an overdose of an anesthetic agent that causes immediate loss of consciousness and cardiac arrest. The drug is administered by an intravenous injection. The process is considered painless.

If you decide to stay with your dog during his passing, prepare yourself for some physical reactions that may occur in the dog. For example, some dogs will vocalize at the last instant or appear to take a deep breath (a gasp) after death and there may be loss of urine and/or stool. These are all normal phenomena.

Handling the Body and Dog Memorial

Ideally, you should have thought about and made a decision on how to handle the body before euthanasia. This is especially true when you would like to have a special doggie funeral or want some type of funerary product (e.g. a personalized urn).

Burial is the choice of many families. Local laws may prohibit burying pets in your own backyard, so you need to check out the laws and if necessary look for a pet cemetery.

Cremation is an alternative if you do not have a burial site. It may be expensive, however, especially if you want a private cremation so that you can receive all of your own dog's ashes back so that you can put them in an urn.

To memorialize your dog, there are now a lot of products for you to choose from. For example, you can keep a lock of your dog's hair in a locket, or have his picture made into a special frame.

Grieving for Your Dog

Grieving for a dog may involve several stages - from denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, sadness, to acceptance. Of course not every person will go through all these stages, and the length of time and order for each stage is different for each person. It may take up to one year or even longer for dog parents to come to accept the death of their loved companion and move forward.

Grieving and having feelings of guilt, anger, etc. are normal and you should not be embarrassed about expressing such emotions. Reading pet loss books or joining a support group can help. There are also pet loss hotlines available in different cities and countries. Grief counselors are also trained to help people deal with pet loss.
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