Dog Sleeping on the grass - black lab with grey beardTraining 

How To Put A Dog To Sleep And When To Know It’s The Right Time


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Stetson passed away exactly two years ago (June 23rd, 2019). Yes, this is a blog about puppies, but puppies get older and become adults then senior dogs. Stetson was my little puppy all the way until the end. Today’s post is dedicated to Stetson and Linus who were the inspiration for this blog.

RIP Stetson and Linus.

Doesn’t it seem like your senior dog was a puppy only just yesterday?

It can be distressing to watch them get older, especially if they get to the point where pain or discomfort has seriously undermined their quality of life.

This is when you need to make the difficult decision about whether it’s time to put your dog to sleep.

Animal euthanasia should be chosen to help a dog who is in significant physical pain, or whose cognitive function has deteriorated to the point that they are feeling distressed.

Dog Sleeping on the grass - black lab with grey beard

When a dog gets to this point, putting them down can be an act of kindness.

But how do you know when your dog’s time has come, and what should you expect from canine euthanasia?

What is the process, how much does it cost, and what will it be like for your dog?

Read on as we attempt to answer all of these questions, starting with how dog euthanasia works and what to expect from the experience.

We will also look at how to determine whether the time may have come for your dog to cross the Rainbow Bridge.

It’s been 2 years since we said goodbye to Stetson and 3 years to since we said goodbye to Linus. Two of the worse days of my life. Even today it’s painful to write about their passing.

What Is Animal Euthanasia?

The decision to put your dog to sleep is one that is generally made in discussion with your vet.

If your dog is unwell, physically, cognitively, or emotionally, you are probably in close contact with your vet to manage their condition.

Together you should be able to determine whether your dog is enjoying life, or if they may be better off if they are put to sleep.

You will see more advice on knowing whether it is time to put your dog to sleep at the end of this article.

If you do decide to put your dog down, your vet will talk you through the process.

The euthanasia procedure itself involves an intravenous injection of a pharmaceutical agent that is designed to stop the heart quickly and as painlessly as possible.

The most common pharmaceutical solutions are based on either pentobarbital or phenytoin.

If you see the solution, you will notice that it is a bright pink, purple, or blue. But this is coloring that has been added to make the solution clearly identifiable so that no mistakes happen.

The solution needs to be injected directly into the vein. Depending on the condition of your dog, the vet may do this directly, or they may give your dog an intravenous catheter to give easier access to the vein.

Once the drug is administered, it should spread through their body quickly and they will lose consciousness within a few seconds. They should not experience any pain or discomfort at the time.

You will notice their breathing slow and eventually stop over a period of about 10 seconds. Cardiac arrest and death should happen within about 30 seconds.

At this time, your vet will probably check your dog’s heart to confirm that they have passed, and then leave you alone with your dog to say goodbye, if you have chosen to be there.

Your vet will warn you that your dog’s body may release urine, feces, and other bodily fluids upon death. This is completely normal and the result of the relaxation of the muscles and nothing sinister.

Their eyes may also remain open, and muscles may spasm. However, your vet will probably close the eyes and wait for muscle spasms to stop before leaving you alone with the body.

Most of the above was true for both Linus and Stetson. Fortunately, for us neither had spasms when they passed and I didn’t notice them releasing feces nor urine.

Their eyes did remain open which made it very difficult to leave their side. Watching my best pals pass on was one of the more difficult things I had to do these past few years. It still hurts me to think about.

Where Does The Procedure Happen?

Your vet will need you to make quite a few decisions prior to the procedure, the most basic of which are where to do it and whether you want to be present.

Whether you want to be there or not depends on you. It is often advisable, as you can be a calming and familiar presence for your dog in a potentially distressing situation.

However, if the loss is just too much for you emotionally, and you are going to be highly distressed during the procedure, it can be better if you aren’t there.

Your dog will pick up on your emotional distress and are likely to be more scared.

Your vet may suggest administering a sedative to your dog before the procedure if they are likely to become highly distressed, or if they have developed aggressive behavior as part of their sickness.

You will then need to choose between taking your dog to the vet to have the procedure done, or having a vet come to you, if that option is available where you live.

There are pros and cons to each choice.

Pros & Cons For Euthanasia At Home

  • Your dog will probably feel calmer and more tranquil in familiar surroundings
  • You won’t have to move them if they have become debilitated
  • The drive to and passing through the veterinary office will not cause additional stress
  • You don’t need to drive to and from the vet while upset about the situation, or engage with a lot of strangers while you are feeling vulnerable
  • Your dog’s body will be at home for you to manage the next steps
  • It’s more expensive to have your vet come to your home and have the procedure done

Pros & Cons For Euthanasia At The Veterinary Office

  • Some dogs will be more cooperative in unfamiliar situations
  • You don’t need to be present, or have a spot in your home where you know that your dog passed
  • There are more staff and equipment on hand and more options available in the unlikely event that something does wrong
  • Your vet can help you store the body and organize the next steps
  • It could be difficult to get your dog from your home to the vet office.
  • Your dog won’t be in familiar surroundings which could be discomforting

Which of these decisions is right for you depends on you, your family, and the condition of your dog.

Again, your vet has probably dealt with this situation on a number of occasions and can talk you through your fears and concerns to help you make the best decisions.

Aftercare

Before putting your dog down, you will also want to decide what to do with their body. Your vet will no doubt have a partner that assists with this kind of aftercare, or you can take the body home to manage this yourself.

Again, what is best for you depends on how you are feeling and what you want to do with the body.

If you are intending to bury the body on your own property, you may want to take your dog straight home. But bear in mind that there are restrictions on this depending on where you live.

Make sure you research this before committing to any action. Buried bodies can be dangerous for other animals, and distressing for you if, say, your neighbor’s cat decides to start digging where your beloved dog is interred.

If you plan to have them taken away for cremation or burial at a pet cemetery, bear in mind that the body may need to be stored for a period of time.

If you choose to have your pet euthanized at home, you will want the body to be collected quickly after the procedure. If it happens at the veterinary hospital, they will be able to refrigerate the body while awaiting collection.

This may play into your decision about whether to do the procedure at home or in the veterinary hospital.

It is a good idea to pay for the euthanasia and all these aftercare services in advance so that you have one less thing to worry about while you are grieving your dog.

Linus and Stetson were both at the hospital when they were euthanized. We chose to have them cremated. About a week after they passed we received their ashes in the mail. Having my dogs at home brought some closure to during this terrible time.

How Much Does It Cost To Euthanize A Dog?

The exact cost of euthanizing a dog depends on a number of factors, but expect to pay somewhere between $50 and $150 depending on the specific drugs the clinic uses, and whether you choose to take your pup to the clinic or euthanize at home. You will pay a little more if the vet comes to you.

Also, don’t forget the expenses associated with laying your dog to rest. These will include cremation, internment, an urn, a sedative shot if they need calming before the procedure, and so forth.

If you are considering laying your canine friend to rest in a pet cemetery, it will probably cost somewhere between $300–$800 for a plot.

Our cost was substantially higher because our dogs were also being treated for different sicknesses. Stetson had cancer and Linus had congestive heart failure. The medical costs plus leading up to their final days plus the euthanasia costs were well into the thousands of dollars.

How Do You Know When It’s Time To Put Your Dog To Sleep?

It is difficult to know whether your dog needs to be put to sleep.

This is something best discussed with your vet, who can give you guidance based on your dog’s condition and their experience with thousands of other pups and their human pet parents.

Basically, it is time to start considering putting your dog down when they no longer have a positive quality of life.

If constant pain impedes their happiness or cognitive dysfunction leaves them scared and disoriented, animal euthanasia may then be the best decision.

While every case is unique and you will need to discuss it with your vet, there are a few key signs to look out for that may indicate that your dog is no longer enjoying life.

1. Changes in behavior

Cognitive dysfunction is one of the most challenging end-of-life struggles for both humans and animals, not least because it happens internally, so it is not always clear what’s wrong.

It is hard to know if they recognize themselves, and whether they are in blissful ignorance or in confusion and distress.

If you are concerned about your dog’s cognitive health, look out for changes in their behavior. Forgetting routines and training, like their housetraining, is a clear sign.

But also look out for aggressive behavior, which can result from no longer recognizing the people around them, and also losing the ability to send and receive conciliatory signals from other animals.

2. Frequent crying and whining

If your dog is in distress, they will try to let you know. This will include crying and whining, or perhaps pawing at the ground to manage pain.

Again, they may also display aggressive behavior. The pain leaves them feeling vulnerable and less able to defend themselves, so fear leads to additional aggression.

3. Eating and drinking normally

Appetite and digestion are some of the first things affected when a dog becomes ill.

Skipping the occasional meal and becoming fussier are a fairly normal part of a dog getting older and nothing to worry about. But if your dog’s weight drops significantly, this is a key warning sign.

Dogs tend to put on weight as they get older because their metabolism slows down. But if they suddenly gain a lot of weight over a short period of time, this is another cause for concern.

Hopefully, they remember their toilet training, so you aren’t seeing too much of their business.

But as they get older, it doesn’t hurt to check their stool occasionally. Look out for blood or a significant change in color or consistency.

These are all worth discussing with your vet.

We knew Linus and Stetson were ill, but it wasn’t until they stopped eating that we knew their time was near.

4. Declining mobility and energy

Just like humans, dogs’ bodies can start to let them down as they get older. Moving around can become painful and, as a result, they may choose to stay more sedentary.

Alternatively, depending on the type of pain, they may avoid sitting down, as certain positions can put uncomfortable pressure on pain points.

If you notice your dog moving strangely, refraining from certain activities, or abandoning their favorite places to sleep, these can all be signs that they are in physical pain.

This is not necessarily the end; they may just need an orthopedic bed and adjusted exercise regime. But it is worth monitoring, as you don’t want to get to the point where they can no longer enjoy life.

5.  Avoiding you

When your dog feels like their time is up, you may find that they prefer to go off on their own. Dogs tend to hide when they suspect that they are going to die.

If your dog gets to this stage, they will probably pass on naturally within a day or two.

However, if they linger for some reason, and they seem like they are in discomfort or pain, again you might want to speak to your vet about helping them through these final stages.

You can find more information on how to know when it is time to put your dog down here.

When Linus began suffering from congestive heart failure we reached out to friends and family to help us decide when we should start considering euthanasia.

Our friend Denise told us she was advised that we should think about our dog’s three favorite things to do in life. When they could no longer do two out of three of these things it was time to consider putting your dog to sleep

Linus

It was very difficult with Linus because we knew his favorite thing was to be near family, protect, and keep us safe. He did this with me, my wife, and for the first year of Emma’s life. He still tried to stay close to us, but when he started having difficulty following us to the different rooms in the house we knew his time was near.

Stetson

Stetson loved doing K9 nose work. He loved to casually walk around the yard like Ferdinand the Bull, just smelling the flowers. Finally, he loved to eat. I knew the day he stopped eating was the day we’d have to consider euthanasia.

FAQs

Do Dogs Suffer When They Are Put To Sleep?

The process of putting a dog to sleep is not painful. They receive a drug that should stop their heart quickly and see them pass painlessly.

However, dogs are very sensitive and aware of what is happening around them, so the lead up to the procedure itself can be distressing for them.

They are likely to take their emotional lead from you, so the best thing you can do is keep your emotions in check until after the procedure is completed.

What Is The Process Of Putting Your Dog To Sleep?

The process of putting a dog to sleep involves administering a drug that will quickly stop their heart.

The vet may decide to give your dog a sedative before the procedure if they are distressed or if they have become aggressive as a result of their illness.

You can do the procedure in the vet’s office, or at home if that service is available where you live. The vet will discuss your preferences with you, and whether or not you prefer to be present.

How Will I Know It’s Time To Put My Dog To Sleep?

Generally, it is time to put your dog down when they are no longer enjoying a good quality of life.

This could be because physical problems are causing them constant pain, or cognitive issues have made them extremely stressed and anxious.

You should speak with your vet to determine whether it is time for your dog to be put to sleep.

If they have health problems, your vet will probably be quite familiar with their condition and be able to help you make an informed decision.

What Does It Cost To Have A Dog Put To Sleep?

The cost of putting a dog to sleep varies depending on a variety of factors, but you should expect to pay between $50 and $150.

But bear in mind that this does not include other services such as cremation or tests and medical care before the procedure.

The Verdict

The decision to put your dog to sleep may be one of the most difficult that you and your family make.

Certainly, you will want your canine family member around for as long as possible, but if their quality of life is significantly diminished as a result of health problems, putting them to sleep can be the kindest thing to do.

The process of putting a dog to sleep is designed to be painless for them, and your vet will do what they can to minimize the distress for you. 

But nothing can diminish the grief of losing a beloved and loyal pet, and you will need to find your own way to grieve.

Have you ever had to put a dog down?

Share your experiences with the community in the comments section below.

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How And When To Put A Dog To Sleep - Old black Labrador Retriever with grey beard lying down in the grass

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