Death is a natural part of life and, while we don’t like to dwell on it, every dog owner knows that the day will come when he will have to say goodbye to his best friend. If you’re lucky, your dog will pass peacefully of old age in the comfort of home. Unfortunately, some dogs can get injured, or become very ill, and then it’s up to the owner to make one of the most difficult, and heart-breaking, decisions in life.
But how do you know when it’s time to say that final goodbye; and what is the best way to handle the situation?
Knowing when to say goodbye
You may have noticed that your dog doesn’t seem like himself. Maybe he is sleeping more often or not eating as much; maybe he’s not as active as he used to be. While all of these could be signs that you dog is “winding down,” does it really mean it’s time to say goodbye?
One way to know for sure is to consult your veterinarian. Some end-of-life signs could indicate an illness that, when treated, could buy your dog months and even years life – especially if diagnosed and treated early. Other signs could indicate that it’s time to let go. A veterinarian can examine your dog and conduct the necessary diagnostic tests to determine what’s wrong.
However, even if your vet determines that your dog has a treatable condition, there are other things to consider when making your decision:
- If your dog is in pain that cannot be managed with medication;
- If the medication and treatment for your dog’s condition is more than you can afford;
- If the medication and treatment could significantly reduce your dog’s quality of life;
- If the medication and treatment might not effectively treat your dog’s condition.
For example, if your dog has a chondrosarcoma, an aggressive cancer on his leg, your options may be to remove the tumor, to remove the leg, or to euthanize. If you choose surgery, you may also need to administer chemotherapy, or radiation. All of these treatments could save your dog’s life; but they can also be very expensive and invasive, and could diminish your dog’s quality of life.
Ultimately, it may be more humane to euthanize than to put your dog through the rigors of surgery, medication, and multiple vet visits.
Once you have made the decision to euthanize, you need to give yourself and anyone else in your family time to say goodbye. You can also do things to make your dog more comfortable in his last days.
If you have small children, you should explain what’s happening and why. If it helps, you can read to them from several books on the subject, such as When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers, to help them understand and deal with the loss.
How you handle the actually event is up to you. If you feel uncomfortable with being in the room when it happens, that’s perfectly valid. On the other hand, if you would prefer to be there until the end, and then make sure the vet knows and can accommodate you.
In some cities, you may also have the option of in home pet euthanasia. This allows your dog to pass peacefully in a loving environment, instead of enduring the stress of traveling to the vet. You can even have the procedure done in your dog’s favorite spot. However, you should only choose this option if you are comfortable staying with your dog in those last moments. Also, you should avoid having small children in the room, especially if this is their first time dealing with death.
After the procedure.
Once your dog is gone, you will need to decide how to handle the remains. If you have a yard, burying your dog yourself could be a good way to achieve closure. However, you should make sure that doing so is legal in your area.
Another option is the pet cemetery. This option is good for people who don’t have yards, or can’t perform the burial themselves. However, not all areas have pet cemeteries, and not all of them have space. You can find an international list of pet cemeteries here.
Many vets offer cremation and you can even opt to have your dog’s remains returned to you in a personalized memorial or urn. This option is good for people who don’t have yards, who can’t bury their pets at home, or for whom a pet cemetery is not an option.