When to Euthanize a Dog With Arthritis

Nobody wants to say goodbye to a beloved pet, but we all agree they deserve to go peacefully. Part of that is knowing when to let them go.

It is time to euthanize an arthritic dog when their pain is greater than their quality of life, and pain management is no longer enough. If they struggle to get up by themselves, they’re whimpering or yelping, they’ve lost interest in food and toys, or other big changes, it might be time.

Remember that choosing euthanasia is a merciful choice for a dog in pain, but their owners need support, too. To learn more about how to help your dog and yourself with this process, keep reading below.

How Do I Know it’s Time to Euthanize?

Many pet and animal lovers agree that it is better to let your dog go a day too early than a day too late. If the pet gets to pass on peacefully, surrounded by family after eating a tasty treat, it will be less distressing for both the owner and the dog. This is also true of other pets and family members who will be watching, particularly children in the home.

One dog owner remembers delaying euthanasia until their sweet elderly dog bit a beloved child after the child touched the dog’s bad hip. Everyone was surprised, and the owners decided that a dog in that much pain needed to be let go. They chose a peaceful home euthanasia procedure where the dog was able to fall asleep in its favorite bed, with its owner present and in a calm environment. The owner’s only regret was not choosing this before the dog reached that level of pain, and they made sure to euthanize their following pets before they reached that stage.

Some signs that a dog’s arthritis is advanced include:

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities, toys, or food
  • Decrease in appetite and serious weight loss
  • Snapping, whimpering, or showing distress when touched in sore spots
  • Making pained noises when they move
  • Inability to get up from a lying position on their own
  • Difficulty getting around without an owner’s help
  • Severe muscle loss in their back legs or hips
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation, whether from the inability to stand or loss of control

These all mean that the dog is in pain. These may be improved to some degree with pain management, but they could also continue to get worse.

Remember that euthanasia comes from Greek roots that literally mean “a good death.” If an animal is suffering, they rely on their owner to help them through it. Whether that is through medical attention, pain management, or euthanasia, you’re not a bad owner for responding to their needs. Your pet trusts you to make the best decision for them.

Can my Dog Recover from Arthritis?

Arthritis isn’t uncommon in older dogs, and it is especially prevalent in large dogs. Because of this, vets have a lot of experience helping it. Arthritis can be managed by pain medication and some physical therapy, but there will come a point when the pain is beyond management for your pet. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis at this time.

Pain management options can be discussed between you and your vet. The goal is to improve the quality of life and improve pain for your pet so they can enjoy every moment they have with you, leaving both of you some great memories!

Pain Management options include:

Weight Management

Weight management is helpful for arthritic dogs because lower weight puts less strain on the joints. An obese dog, as cute as it may be, is going to feel more pain than a fit dog. Your vet can help you manage an appropriate diet and exercise for your dog’s situation.

Ideal weight-management dog food for arthritic dogs will meet all their nutritional needs and will also provide omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. These building blocks for a healthy body can keep your pet feeling strong a little longer.

You might also consider looking into dog food or supplements that contain glucosamine, which has been shown to support healthy joints by helping collagen production.

Pain Medication

Your veterinarian can work with you to see if your dog is eligible for prescription pain medication.

It is important to remember that dog medication is not the same as human medication, so the pain medication you take could be deadly for your pets! However, there are dog versions of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) available, and your vet can do a blood test to see if they would be safe for your dog.

To be clear, human NSAIDs/pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen are toxic to dogs, so do not give something out of your own medicine cabinet! That will not help your pet and will make them very sick. Make sure to always consult with a vet before giving pain meds to an animal.

Physical and Alternative Therapies

Physical and alternative therapies are good for pain management and improving overall health in dogs. Options like water therapy take the stress off their joints so they can lose weight and gain muscle while soothing pain and alternative therapies like acupuncture can reduce pain and inflammation to help your pet.

Some of these physical and alternative therapies include:

  • Water Therapy
  • Therapeutic Exercise
  • Cold and Heat Treatment
  • Laser Treatment
  • Electrical Stimulation
  • Hand-On Techniques, like massage
  • Shockwave Therapy
  • Acupuncture

Euthanasia vs. Natural Death

Many pet owners wonder whether they should choose euthanasia or a natural death for their pets. Some pets make the decision for their owners, slipping away quietly in their sleep when nobody is looking, and that’s fine. If the dog chose their own timing before they were in a lot of pain, that’s nature helping both of you out and you don’t need to feel guilty about it.

However, natural death isn’t often that calm or easy, and an owner needs to have clear information before they can make an educated choice. Arthritis is one of those diseases that will heavily affect your dog’s quality of life as it advances. This isn’t a time to sugarcoat things. A natural death for a dog with arthritis will probably be very painful, prolonged, and stressful for you and the dog before they pass.

If you choose a natural death, you will probably need to help your dog with everything from standing up to passing waste, and it will be painful for them. They may die after significant weight loss because they’re in too much pain to eat or drink. Arthritis isn’t deadly on its own, but the pain it causes as it advances can make it hard for your dog to live.

Euthanasia can be a scary thought for a dog owner, especially when they feel guilty about taking good time away from their pets, but it is a kind choice for a suffering dog. It can even be done at the owner’s home, taking away the stress of a vet visit! Consulting with a veterinarian can help a worried owner make the best choice for their pet.

Euthanasia Options, and How They Work

No dog owner wants to cause extra distress for their beloved pet, and the end of life is an especially stressful time for the dog and the owner. Many pet owners will worry, question their options, feel guilty, and struggle with the grieving process. Knowing about the different euthanasia options can help relieve some of that stress.

The first thing to know is that dogs’ bodies can react strangely to death. A dog that is euthanized and already dead can still spasm, shake, and look like it’s in pain, but it is not! That is the muscles in the body reacting to death, and the nerves will continue to fire for a little while after the dog is gone. Humans do this too when they die, and yes, it can be alarming if you don’t know what’s happening. Having a vet or support person present can be very helpful, especially if they’re familiar with the process.

There are choices in euthanasia. Some of them may seem strange, but knowing them will help you make the right choice for you and your dog.

Home Euthanasia With A Vet

This is probably the easiest and most comforting choice of euthanasia for both the arthritic dog and the owner. Instead of traveling to a vet’s office, which can make the dog and the owner anxious and can strain their bodies if the dog is large can’t move well, the vet will come to your home.

Once there, the vet will proceed with the euthanasia process while you and your pet are more comfortable. You can pick out a blanket for your dog and feed it some treats while the vet shaves a leg for an IV, and you can have members of the family say their goodbyes if it won’t distress the dog.

After your dog has finished passing, other animals in the house can be shown the body so they can understand their friend is dead. While this might seem grim, it is actually very helpful for animals that might otherwise just wonder where their buddy went. They might be upset, or they might ignore the body after a sniff, but they’ll be able to understand.

Your vet can also help you make a decision regarding the remains. You can bury your dog in the yard, take it to a pet cemetery, have the vet take the body for disposal or cremation, and even have cremated remains returned to you.

The downside of this option is that it can be more expensive, usually costing between $200-$400. Additionally, not every vet offers this as an option, and some people live far away from veterinary care. The good news is that euthanasia is usually a long conversation for owners of arthritic dogs, so there is some time to save up if this is the option you choose.

Euthanasia at the Vet’s Office or a Shelter

This is the most common and accessible option available for most owners, and the workers at both places have extensive experience with the process. They can give you support and make your pet as comfortable as possible.

You and your pet will travel to the vet’s office, which will probably be painful for an arthritic pet and should be prepared for. You can pad the back of your car with pillows and blankets to make it more comfortable, and recruit a friend to help lift a large dog or hold a small dog. Remember that even if this is uncomfortable for you and the dog, you’re doing something that will help them not have pain anymore.

Arriving at the vet’s office will be a more streamlined experience than you may expect. Ideally, you should have an appointment and the vet will have explained the process in a phone call or previous appointment, so you’ll know what to expect.

You may leave the room for a short period while the vet is placing an IV and administering sedatives. You will most likely want to return to the room when your pet will actually be euthanized, as this will both comfort your dog and also help you process grief and avoid guilt later on. Remember, the process of dying may look alarming and painful, but your dog will be unconscious and unable to feel pain for almost all of it, and that is just how their bodies react.

After the process is finished, you and the vet can handle the dog’s remains. You may choose to leave the body with the vet, ask to receive cremated remains, or take the body to bury yourself. Make sure you know what local laws allow regarding burying pets in the yard, as this will not be an option in rented properties or some neighborhoods.

Be sure to take time for self-care afterward, as this process will be emotional and hard in even the best cases. You’ve just said goodbye to a pet, and they’d want you to have comfort, just like you’d want for them.

Humane Shooting as Euthanasia

This might seem like a shocking option, but it is a real option to consider for some owners. For example, extremely rural communities might be a two-hour rocky drive from a vet’s office, and that’s too far to carry an arthritic dog who is already in pain. Farmers and ranchers have this as a possible option, though it’s good to remember that Travel Vets are another real option.

In this scenario, it is vital to remember that local laws exist to prevent animal cruelty, including untimely death, and that improper or casual shooting of a pet can end with the owner paying heavy fines or spending time in jail. The animal must be shot humanely, in a way that will destroy its brain immediately so it doesn’t feel pain.

This option requires a lot of preparation and consideration beforehand, including deciding if the owner is prepared for their own emotions after euthanizing a pet dog this way.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

Your dog has been a loyal, loving companion to you, and you’re making a merciful choice for your little friend. They would want you to show yourself some love and compassion, too. Reach out to friends, talk to a doctor if your emotions get too heavy to handle, and get help with the grieving process.

It never gets easier to say goodbye to a dog, but choosing to euthanize it at the right time can make it less traumatic for you, too. You can make some good memories, have a photo shoot, and make a memorial for your dog if it helps you. There’s no wrong way to grieve, and there’s no shame in it, either. Remember, you’re doing this out of love.

Carolina Pieters

I'm Carolina and created this blog, to provide practical advice and emotional comfort for those dealing with pet loss.

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