Sunday, November 20, 2011

When to put your dog down

When is the right time to put your dog to sleep?

One of the most difficult decisions people have to make when they own a pet is when to have that pet put to sleep.  Many phone calls I receive start off with, "Dr Gardner, my family says I should put my dog down but I just don't know if it is the right time."

To help people evaluate when the 'right time' is - I start off with learning what disease the pet has. Every disease will produce different symptoms, effect quality of life differently, carries a different life expectancy, etc.  For example, Congestive Heart Failure may shorten the life span of a pet faster than arthritis. 

Next I find out what is currently being done for the pet in terms of treatment and home environment. All too often pet owners are reluctant to bring their pets to their regular veterinarian when they are old because they are concerned about the expense and also that their doctor will suggest euthanasia before they are ready.   That is where hospice comes into the picture.  Pet Hospice is a philosophy that aims to allow the pet to spend as much quality time at home as possible before euthanasia or natural death occurs. It typically does not include a lot of tests, bloodwork, xrays, etc. But rather focuses on treating symptoms short-term to give families more time with their loved ones. 

Arthritis/mobility is the most common reason people call me. After a hospice visit, many pets do well on the medications I prescribe (ex: pain medication and anti-inflammatories) and also with some simple modifications to the house to help the pet feel better. (Click here for some ideas)  Another mis-conception  many people I hear from have is that they don't want their dog or cat all 'drugged up'.   The medications we use are very similar to what humans use.   If I were to have a headache or my knee what hurting me - I'd reach to my medicine cabinet... and I wouldn't be all 'drugged up' the rest of the day. :)  (NOTE: DO NOT give your pet human medication without first speaking to a veterinarian. Many of our medications can be fatal in other speices)

Another common disease is Kidney (Renal) Failure. Patients with Kidney Failure can greatly benefit from administering fluids under the skin every day. This is a daunting task for some owners but once they do it two or three times, it becomes second nature.  

Click Here to go to enter our Common Disease page which has information sheets on many of the diseases our pets suffer from.

Quality of Life Scale

Last, I go over the Quality of Life scale (click here for scale) that we have created. Or use our free online Pet Hospice Journal This helps owners evaluate their pet objectively and will help guide them in determining when the right time is for the pet and the whole family.

It is never an easy decision and it does carry guilt at times. Remember that euthanasia means, 'A good death', it is very peaceful and it is a gift that you can give your pet when they are suffering. 

Please explore our website or contact your local Lap of Love veterinarian to ask any questions you may have about hospice and euthanasia.

Posted by:
Vet Mary Gardner DVM
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and Euthanasia

About Lap of Love:
Lap of Love is a group of compassionate veterinarians that provide peaceful veterinary hospice and euthanasia in the home. We empower owners to help care for their geriatric or terminally ill pets in an environment most comfortable for them.  

Dr. Mary Gardner with Hospice Patient Koleman


  1. Having done cat rescue for 9 years now, we have been put in the position of having to euthanize many of our kitties, for a variety of reasons.

    While euthanasia is NEVER a hasty or easy decision for me, I try to always keep the following thought at the top of my mind: What is best for our kitty? If they live through this illness, will he/she have quality of life, our am I being selfish in not wanting to say goodbye?

    Our pets deserve not to suffer. We have the ability to let them go in peace, with us by their sides. Euthanasia is a very peaceful process, I couldn't live with myself if I couldn't do that for our kitties.

    I am thankful that I can hold them as they pass, painful as it is for me, I have some relief, knowing they passed while I, who loved them dearly, was able to make the right decison &be wjith them at the end.

    To me, this is the greatest thing I can give back to them, after all they have given me.

    1. Your words have helped ease this difficult decision for me. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for your comments Pat - I hope it helps readers with their decision. I lost my doberman almost a year ago and I was not there with him when he died - I will always regret not being there holding him, saying how much I loved him as he peacefully went.

    They rely on us to take care of them - even during their final moments.

    Thank you for rescuing kitties!!! We need more people like you out there. :)

    Dr Mary

  3. Dr Mary....Having gone through this ourselves, I am glad you have put words one of the hardest decisions a pet lover can face. In our case, Lap of Love and Dr Dani were there for us, counseling us through the last difficult months. I don't know how we would have fared had peaceful in-home euthanasia not been available to us. I continue to sing your praises to everyone I know. Bless you all.

  4. This is such a wonderful blog that sheds light on this very difficult and emotional topic. I hope every pet owner has the opportunity to read this. I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful group and blessed to be able to ease the pain of families going through the ordeal of pet loss.
    ~dr Kim
    In memory of Lizzie...miss you Liz.

  5. Jennifer MontgomeryNovember 20, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    Dr. Mary - I CANNOT stress to you enough how much you have helped me deal with the anxiety over Solomon's old age and his recent cancer diagnosis. This has been a tougher struggle than i thought it would be. I told you this early on.. I would know when it was time because I know my Solomon so well and that he'd tell me when he was ready. And now, going through this process- taking it one day at a time, I've realized that this is not so simple.

    You've helped me immensely with reading him and with realizing that what seems to be the beginning of the end, might just be a bad day. We've had a few of those... but we've had so many good ones and luckily it seems, many more to come. But it's a huge comfort going through this, to know that when that day does come, Lap of Love will be there to make the worst day ever, a little less terrible.

    Thank you so much for your kindness and dedication to pets and their families who are essentially strangers to you, but who are your friends through the common love and respect we have for our animals.

    PS: magic chicken juice is a life-saver! Thank you!

    ~Jennifer M. and Solomon :)

  6. Great blog, Dr. Mary! I also give my clients the "quick and easy" quality of life scale.

    1. They have to be eating.
    2. They have to be keeping the food they eat down (no vomiting)
    3. They have to have their pain controlled
    4. They have to love the things they usually love (being with family, favorite treats/foods, favorite activities).

    If any of those 4 items are not being met, then some sort of intervention is necessary.

    Lap of Love Veterinarians can guide you and answer your questions during this difficult time.

    Dr. Cherie Buisson
    Lap of Love Pinellas County

  7. It's okay to hurt, bawl and act like you lost your best friend because
    you did. Even harder than missing them is watching them try to go on
    just for you. It's hard on the animal when you keep crying, saying goodbye
    and then changing your mind. When the dog hurts, struggles to deal with
    daily life, it's time to say goodbye and mean it.

  8. I did bawl like a baby as well as my whole family we held Jack a 17 year old german sheperd collie mix until the very peaceful end.Thank you to this site for letting me know it was ok


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