How Do You Know When It’s Time To Euthanize Your Dog? (Valuable Info I Learned While Working For A Vet)

by Lynnette

Costs & Expenses For Dog Owners, Death And Dying In Dogs, Dog Age, Dog Injuries & Emergencies, Dog Surgery And Recovery, Old Dogs / Senior Dogs, Veterinarian And Expert Dog Tips

A few years ago, my 15-year-old dog died — an American Eskimo that I’d raised since he was an 8-week-old puppy. His name was Jersey.

Here’s more about Jersey’s last days and what we think we did to help him live to be 15 (or 105 in dog years).

Fast forward several years later…

A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old dog died. He was a Great Pyrenees / Black Lab mix that hubby and I picked out of the litter. Or rather, he picked us… literally. His name was Tenor.

I’ve learned firsthand that one of the hardest things ever is euthanizing your four-legged companion. It’s hard to lose that forever-loyal pup who’s been living side-by-side with you for the past decade-plus. (I’ve had to do it a few other times before this, as well.)

Is It Time?…

It’s so hard to know when to euthanize a dog.

Even though mine were senior dogs, it’s just not something that any pet owner wants to do. You secretly hope that your dog will peacefully pass in the night — sometimes that happens, but not usually.

Instead, most dogs that are left to die on their own will typically die from starvation — which is a long, slow, painful, suffering process that dogs do not deserve.

In many cases, offering your pet ‘death with dignity’ can be a pet owner’s greatest act of love. Waiting until that last dreadful moment during which pets suffer needlessly is a horrid experience for any pet, much less a beloved best friend. Our hopes for how our pets will pass don’t always match up with reality. Many pet owners hope their best friend will pass naturally in their sleep. Unfortunately, while that does occasionally happen, it is the exception rather than the rule. ~Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM

After working for a veterinarian for several years — and raising my own dogs for several more — I’ve learned that you shouldn’t feel guilty about euthanizing your dog.

The word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek word “euthanatos” — which means “good death”.

Deciding that it was time to let Tenor go was something that we knew in our hearts was the right thing to do — yet it was so hard to realize that he wasn’t going to be with us anymore.

One of Tenor's last days

I’ve picked up a lot of helpful info — both, while working closely with a veterinarian and the vet techs on staff and in speaking personally with other veterinarians about when to euthanize a dog.


I thought I’d summarize the helpful guidance that I received firsthand about this difficult time in a dog owner’s life.

And I hope if you’re ever in the same boat I was recently (trying to decide when to schedule your dog’s “last vet appointment”), that you will also find some comfort from this information.

Making the decision to euthanize a pet can feel gut-wrenching, murderous, and immoral. Families feel like they are letting their pet down or that they are the cause of their friend’s death. They forget that euthanasia is a gift, something that, when used appropriately and timely, prevents further physical suffering for the pet and emotional suffering of the family. Making the actual decision is the hardest part of the experience and I’m asked on a daily basis, “Doc, how will I know when it’s time?” ~Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice

How To Know When Your Dog’s Last Days Are Near

You’ll know it.

Dog's paws curled under

Here are some signs it’s time to euthanize your dog:

#1 – Your dog may have been slow to get around for awhile now — but now your dog moves so slowly that you wonder if they’re in pain and just not expressing it.

TIP: If your dog does express pain by occasionally whimpering or yelping… then you must get a medication that only a vet can prescribe to relieve your dog’s pain right away.

#2 – Your dog may have lost some or all of their eyesight and/or hearing long ago — but now your dog seems unable (or unwilling) to “notice” what’s going on around them.

TIP: As a dog begins to lose their eyesight, it’s best to not move furniture and other large things around inside your house for the rest of their life. Seriously. It’s important that dog feels safe and secure when walking the same path every day to the most important things in their life: outside, potty, food, water, sleep, toys, etc.

#3 – Your dog may have stopped going up and/or down stairs awhile ago — but now your dog finds it difficult to simply “get up” (after laying down) or “lie down” (after standing up). This is usually a sign that your dogs hips, legs, and/or joints are really weak — arthritis may have set in, among other things.

TIP: If your dog is struggling to get up or lie down, most likely there is pain involved. Be sure to see your vet for a medication that will alleviate the pain. (My dog was on Truprofen — the same thing as Carprofen or Rimadyl — for the last 6 months of his life, once the pain became noticeable.)

#4 – Your dog may have started eating less and drinking less in his senior years — but now your dog rarely wants to eat or drink anymore.

TIP: If your dog doesn’t become excited by the smell and taste of their all-time favorite dog treats… then you know it’s getting close to “that time”.

#5 – Your dog may have started peeing or pooping in the house, despite the fact that they’ve never had issues with this as an adult dog in the past.

TIP: If your dog is incontinent to the degree that they frequently soil themself (you find your dog laying in pee or poop)… then you know that they’re losing control of their own bodily functions and “it’s time”.

Dog with difficulty walking

Veterinarians agree — those are the signs that it’s time to euthanize your dog.

And yes, those were the 5 signs that my dog showed.

For Tenor, those 5 signs appeared rather quickly. His last 6 months were not terrible, but they just weren’t very enjoyable for him — or for us.

They say when it becomes about the dog’s “quality of life”… then it’s time to start thinking about your dog’s last days.

When pets have good days and bad days, it can be difficult to see how their condition is progressing over time. Actually tracking the days when your pet is feeling good as well as the days when he or she is not feeling well can be helpful. A checkmark for good days and an X for bad days on your calendar can help you determine when a loved one is having more bad days than good. ~Dr. Andy Rourk, DVM

TIP: Write down the top 5 things that your dog loves to do. When they can no longer do 3 or more of them, their quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.

But keep this in mind, too:

It’s normal for your pet to have good and bad days toward the end. Owners shouldn’t feel as if they have done something wrong if the euthanasia takes place on a day their pet is feeling well. I would much rather somebody plan — we had a good day, went to the park, came home, had the ice cream sandwiches, and we let that pet go — than to say, ‘OK, let’s play it day by day,’ and suddenly I get a call, ‘My dog is in distress, can you come today?’ It’s OK to be a good day. There is no perfect time. Nobody will ever know the perfect time. ~Dr. Fiona McCord, founder of Compassionate Care Pet Services

Advice From Veterinarians When To Euthanize A Dog

For my dog Jersey (mentioned at the start of this post), the words from our veterinarian that helped us decide were:

“When you start having more bad days than good days, you’ll know it’s time.”

Old senior dog, Jersey.

Dr. Alice Villalobos is a well-known veterinary oncologist. Her “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale is another useful tool. The 5 H’s and 2 M’s are: Hurt (ability to breathe easily without distress or pain), Hunger (ability to eat on their own), Hydration (ability to drink on their own), Happiness (ability to engage with others, with toys, etc), Hygiene (ability to be kept clean from bodily waste), Mobility (ability to get up and lie down), and More (as in, more good days than bad). Dr. Villalobos recommends grading each category on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being poorest quality of life and 10 being best. If the majority of categories are ranked as 5 or above, continuing with supportive care is acceptable. ~Dr. Andy Rourk, DVM

For my dog Tenor who just recently passed, the words of another veterinarian friend of ours summed it up best:

“If you can tell that your dog isn’t happy because when he’s “here” and he wants to be over there, he’s frustrated that he can’t get there. And when he’s “there” and he wants to be over here, but he can’t get here… that’s when you know it’s time.”

This veterinarian’s quote mostly pertains to dogs that have mobility issues, like ours did.

Tenor had TPLO surgery for a torn ACL when he was 2 years old.

In his last few years as a senior dog, that leg wasn’t very stable anymore. He eventually had to stop using the stairs… running… walking any farther than the porch step without falling down… and getting up or down on his own.

Additional Advice From Other Veterinarians:

“When they stop wagging their tail and stop drinking water, they are not having fun and it’s time to let them go.”

“When you’re seeing signs that indicate your dog is suffering or no longer enjoying a good quality of life, then it’s time.”

“If they are frequently vomiting or having constant diarrhea — those things cause dehydration and/or significant weight loss and may be a sign that your dog is nearing the end.”

“If your dog has incurable suffering that can’t be fixed, it’s time to let them go.”

“When they have chronic labored breathing and coughing, it’s usually a sign that there is fluid in the lungs and/or heart failure, which are common in a dog’s final days and makes the dog feel like they’re drowning in their own boy.”

And some of the best advice about dog euthanasia that I’ve seen is in this little gem…

Remember that pets live in the moment. One of the most wonderful things about animals is how they embrace the present. Every time I walk into my house, my faithful Vizsla throws a one-dog ticker tape parade. The fact that I have entered the house thousands of times before, or that I will leave again in a few hours, means nothing. All that matters to him is the joy that he feels right now. When our pets are suffering, they don’t reflect on all the great days they have had before, or ponder what the future will bring. All they know is how they feel today. By considering this perspective, we can see the world more clearly through their eyes. And their eyes are what matter. ~Dr. Andy Rourk, DVM

Here’s what actually happens when a dog is euthanized.

Dig Deeper…

To help you decide if the time is near for you to euthanize your dog, use these veterinarian approved Quality of Life scales to gauge your dog’s quality of life:

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How to know when to euthanize a dog