Having a dog that is sick, old, failing or diagnosed with a chronic condition or cancer can be difficult. A common question posed to veterinarians is “what are the signs to put a dog to sleep”. Below we will review the quality of life and signs of when it is “time”.
Considering Quality of Life in Dogs
It can be difficult to consider the quality of life and know when it is time to let a pet go. Quality of life is a term used to describe the value of various facets of life that provide and allow for a good life. This can vary a lot from individual to individual and is influenced by prior experiences, cultural and social backgrounds, goals and values. What one person may define as an acceptable quality of life may not be acceptable to another person. Quality of life is a personal judgment.
When looking at the quality of life, it is important to consider the underlying problem that is leading to the question in the first place. There may be moments of a poor quality life but depending on the underlying problem, some problems can be treatable. For example, a dog hit by a car may be in pain and have a poor quality of life at that moment. But with treatment, the prognosis may be good. On the other hand, a very old dog with cancer that isn't eating, losing weight and having difficulty walking likely has a poor prognosis and quality of life that is unlikely to improve.
What are Signs of a Good Quality of Life
If you are considering the quality of life, some guidelines to consider as you evaluate your dog include:
- Is your dog able to eat, drink and sleep comfortably without shortness of breath?
- Is your dog interested in what's going on around them?
- Is your dog able to perform mild exercise?
- Is your dog able to have control of their urine and bowel movements? (Unless the disease affects one of these organ systems)
- Does your dog appear comfortable and free of moderate to severe pain?
- Does your dog have a diagnosis and has been receiving treatment but is still failing?
There may be natural good days and bad days in dogs with chronic conditions. In general, if your dog has a diagnosis and is receiving treatment but is not able to do the things that they enjoy on a daily basis, that is not a good quality of life.
Signs of a Sick or Dying Dog
The signs of a sick dog can vary depending on the underlying illness. For example, dogs with heart disease will often have trouble breathing, lethargy, and weakness. Some general signs of a sick or dying dog include:
- Decreased or poor urine production
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast, slow or irregular heart rates
- Inability or difficulty walking
- Low body temperature
- Not eating
- Pale gums
- Unable to stand
- Weight loss
IMPORTANT: The signs listed above are vague. Generally, signs of a dying dog include a combination of signs. Only one sign can be normal in some dogs. For example, some dogs will hide when frightened. But when you combine a dog that is weak, not eating, vomiting, losing weight and hiding, then that is a problem.
Signs To Put Your Dog to Sleep
At some point, you may realize that your dog is no longer having a good quality of life and is not enjoying life. Sometimes signs can be obvious such as inability to walk or difficulty breathing.
Some guidelines to consider as signs to put a dog to sleep include:
- Your dog is tired and seems to be exhausted with mild exercise or exertion. For example, your dog has difficulty walking from room to room or outside to go to the bathroom.
- Inability to stand or walk without help.
- Your dog is losing weight despite your best efforts to get them to eat.
- Your dog is unable to control urination and defecation and having accidents.
- Your dog sleeps all the time or seems restless and uncomfortable.
- Your dog has difficulty breathing.
- Your dog is not eating well despite you offering multiple foods and treats.
- Crying or howling that may suggest pain or confusion.
- Uncontrolled seizures.
- Bleeding from the urine, bowels, skin, or vomiting.
- Uncontrollable vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Any other signs that your pet has a poor quality of life.
If your dog is experiencing any of these signs, speak to your veterinarian. Medication may help or it may be time to either begin hospice care or consider euthanasia.
What If You Aren't Sure If It Is Time?
If you aren't sure about the quality of life please see your veterinarian. They can help you evaluate your pet's condition and provide an opinion on the quality of life. The decision to euthanize is yours but if you aren't trying to consider the ups and downs, prognosis or condition, a veterinarian's educated assessment can be helpful. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding the diagnosis or treatment of your pet's disease.