Skip to main content

Making Important Decisions About Your Sick or Injured Dog

When it's time to say goodbye to your beloved pet, these tips can help you and your family deal with the loss.

Making Important Decisions About Your Sick or Injured Dog

A number of factors may influence your decision to euthanize your dog. You need to weigh all the factors in making the right choice for your dog, yourself, and your family.

Your dog's health, of course, is the most important factor. Unless your dog is in severe, acute pain, you'll have some time to decide. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog's condition, treatment options, and chance for recovery. Cost may also be a factor, and you shouldn't feel guilty or embarrassed if you simply cannot afford the recommended treatment. Unfortunately, medical care can be extremely expensive, for dogs as well as for people, and most of us have financial limits. Long-term care for a very sick animal can also take a serious emotional toll on you and other family members, including other pets. If you have a big, heavy dog, that may be a factor as well. It's one thing to carry a small dog out for potty breaks or to clean up after a small dog that is incontinent. It's quite another with a big, heavy dog. If you aren't up to the financial, physical, and emotional costs of long-term care, be honest about that with yourself and your vet. It doesn't mean you love your dog any less, and it doesn't make you a bad person. Everyone's situation is different. Do what is right for you and your dog.

If you're not ready to let go, but your dog is terminally ill, you may be interested to know that some veterinary hospitals and organizations are beginning to offer home hospice care. Pet hospice care is designed to keep terminally ill pets comfortable at home until family members come to terms with the pending loss. If hospice care interests you, ask your vet or closest veterinary school about your options.

If you decide that euthanization is the best option, you and your family should discuss in advance where and when the procedure will take place. Some vets will come to your home, especially if you're a long-time client and the dog is very ill. If you decide to go to the veterinarian's office, you'll probably want to arrange a time when the clinic is not busy, and when you don't have to rush back to work or other obligations. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself time and space to grieve.

You also need to decide who will be there. Family members will probably want to say good-bye, and each may want to do it a little differently. Everyone should have a chance to say farewell, both before and after euthanasia has been performed. Talking it all out will make it easier on everyone when the time comes.

Many people are afraid that euthanization will be frightening or painful for the dog. I've been present to say farewell to quite a few dogs and can tell you that every one of them went gently and quietly, secure in knowing that they were well loved even at the end. The process is virtually painless.

It may help you make a decision if you understand what happens during euthanasia. It is usually done by injection of a concentrated solution of pentobarbital, which causes the heart to stop. It is injected directly into a vein and usually works in a few seconds.

Muscles may contract or relax after death has occurred, and cause movements. Sometimes the animal passes urine and feces because of the relaxation. Sometimes air is pushed out of the lungs, making it seem that the dog is gasping. There is no pain associated with these movements, and no awareness on the part of your dog. He's already gone. But knowing what to expect will help you decide who in the family should be present, and also help whoever will be there to be prepared.

Some people simply cannot face being there for the process, but if you can, your dog will usually be more relaxed if you hold him and whisper farewell while the injection is given. If you cannot handle being there, that's okay. You'll probably get all sorts of advice, but ultimately the decision is yours. Do what's best for you—that will be best for your dog. You're not abandoning him; you're placing him in gentle hands that can guide him on his way. He has known your love, and he will take it with him.

Young children probably shouldn't be present during the actual euthanization, but they should be helped to prepare for the loss of their pet. Be sure that each child has a chance to say good-bye before and possibly after the dog dies. Rainbow Bridge

Chew on This

Creating a scrapbook or photo album, or keeping a bit of hair, a collar, or a nametag as a memento, helps many people deal with the loss of a beloved dog.

Some people want time with their dog after the procedure to say a final good-bye. If you or members of your family feel a need for some solitary time, tell your vet. People often want to keep a memento—a lock of hair, a collar, or a name tag, for instance. Be sure that all family members have an opportunity to express what they want to do to say good-bye and what, if anything, they want to keep.

You should decide in advance how you want to handle the body. There are a number of options, depending on your preferences, your finances, and the services offered where you live. Speak to your veterinarian in advance. You may want to have your dog cremated and the ashes returned to you to keep, or perhaps to bury or scatter in your dog's favorite spot. It's also possible to have your dog cremated with other pets. The ashes would not be returned to you in that case. Burial is also an option. You may want to bury him at home, but make sure that is legal where you live. Pet cemeteries are available in many communities. Whatever you choose, your veterinarian can help you with the arrangements.

Subscribe to Family Education

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.