When To Put A Dog Down


There are many reasons for putting a dog down: The dog has aged to the point he or she is not enjoying life, or they have an incurable disease. Whatever the reason for euthanizing your dog, it is never an easy one. 

As a veterinarian, I have had to aid many pet owners with these decisions by using the quality of life scale. 

When to put a dog down? A dog may be put down when their quality of life has deteriorated to the point that they are no longer enjoying life. 

The quality of life scale will aid you with this decision. It looks at 25 different questions in the following categories: 

  • Hurt
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Happiness
  • Mobility
  • More good days than bad

You will score each question 1 to 5, over a period of 3 different daysIf your pet scores over 35 points, they have a good quality of life. If they score below 35 points, then they are probably no longer enjoying life and a trip to the veterinarian will be warranted.

Below we discuss each question in more depth. We also discuss euthanasia and how it works.

The Quality Of Life Scale 

Image obtained from Vet Osu Edu

Dr. Alice Villalobos, DVM, has developed the quality of life scale to help you figure out when it is time to euthanize your dog.  

This scale has different questions that you can ask yourself about your dog, to help you be objective during this time. 

The scale looks at 25 different questions in the following categories:

  • Hurt
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Happiness
  • Mobility
  • More good days than bad

For each question, you will score your dog out of 5 points. With 1 being the lowest rating and a poorer quality of life, and 5 being the highest with a great quality of life.  

It is recommended that you complete this assessment 3 times over 3 different days to get the most accurate assessment of your pets’ quality of life. 

After taking the assessment, add up the score from each question. 

If your pet scores over 35 points, they have a good quality of life. If they score below 35 points, then you should talk to your veterinarian and discuss your options. 

Your veterinarian can help you figure out if, the reason your pet has a poor quality of life is due to an underlying disease that may be treatable with medication. 

However, sometimes the disease may be incurable, but manageable for a while with medication. This will give you time to spend with your dog before you have to make the difficult decision to put him/her down. 

When To Put A Dog Down (Checklist)

Below are 20 questions to help determine your dog’s quality of life. Although the quality of life scale has 25 questions, some of them are repetitive so we have grouped them and reduced it to 20 questions.

When looking at the list, see if there is an area that can be improved. Your veterinarian can help you assess this. 

Does Your Dog Want To Play? 

If your pet no longer wants to play, this may be a reason something is not right. 

They may have once loved stealing socks or blankets and made you chase them around the house, or loved playing catch and running with the other dogs in the family, but now would rather just sit and watch. 

There are many reasons for this behavior: 

  • An underlying condition or disease that is affecting their quality of life. 
  • Some dogs will stop playing when they are depressed, or  
  • Sometimes this decrease in activity is just short-lived.

Monitor this three times a day over a period of 3 days and score each assessment 1 to 5 (one being a dog does not want to play no matter what you tried). At the end of the day add up all your scores for this category.

Does Your Dog Still Interact?

When you come home, does your dog want to interact with you and play? or when you go to the park does your dog want to go and say hi to other dogs and / or other people?  

If these were once how they interacted but no longer want to do it, they may be deteriorating. 

As a dog ages, they want to interact with people and other dogs less, and once they become sick and ill, they usually do not want to be bothered and will hide. 

Monitor their interaction behavior 3 times a day over a period of 3 days, and score each assessment 1 to 5 (one being your dog does not want to interact at all). At the end of the day add up all the scores in this question.

Is Your Dog Hiding?

Image was taken from the VASG pain scale chart

If your dog is suddenly hiding all the time they may be experiencing pain. 

Assess their discomfort in the pain scale. If this is somewhere between 3 and 4 take them to your veterinarian straight away, do not wait to monitor them.

If however, your initial assessment is between 0 and 2 in the pain scale, monitor it 3 times a day over a period of 3 days. score each assessment 1 to 5 and add up the score for this section at the end of the day.

Sometimes whatever is causing the pain can be easily fixed with medication and/or time. Other times the problem can’t be fixed and maybe that the end is approaching.

Your veterinarian’s evaluation will help determine the solution needed. 

Does Your Dog Still Enjoy Life?

Your dog will have activities and certain things that they love to do. 

Consider making a list of 3 to 5 things that your pet loves. This may be anything from going on long walks, catch a ball, swim in the river, play with other dogs, or simply enjoy you coming home.  

Score level of enjoyment for each activity 1 to 5, over a period of 3 days.

If each activity scores below 3 in each assessment, then it may be that your dog is no longer enjoying life.

Has Your Dog’s Behaviour Changed?

Dogs will have a change in behavior as they get older.  

Usually, they become more relaxed, but sometimes they will become more aggressive towards family members. This is especially true for dogs suffering from cancer, as this can spread to their brain.  

When cancer has spread to a dog’s brain, you will see changes in behavior, abnormal gait, aggression, and seizures. 

Score, 1 to 5, change of behavior 3 times a day over a period of 3 days.

If however, you notice that your dog’s aggression is getting out of hand, or the seizures are too frequent. Do not wait, take your dog to your veterinarian straight away.  

What Are The Bad Days vs Good Days?

When trying to figure out if it is time to put your dog down, mark the good days and bad days on a calendar.  

The days that your dog gets up and seems happy to see you and enjoys the things that they normally love, should be marked as good days.  

The days that your dog does not want to get up and play, interact with the family, or is vomiting or having diarrhea mark these as bad days.  

When the bad days outweigh the good days, then it may be time to put your dog down. 

Has Your Dog Sleeping Behaviour Changed?

Dogs, in general, need a load of sleep. However, as your pet ages, they will require even more sleep.  

Some dogs will eventually seem like they are sleeping all the time.

Keep track of how much is your dog sleeping vs how often they are awake over a period of 3 days.

If your dog is sleeping for more than 12 to 14 hours in a 24-hour cycle, mark that 24-hour cycle with a 1.

If your tracking shows that your dog is sleeping more than 12 to 14 hours a day, their quality of life may be deteriorating.

Your vet will help you assess this.

Has Your Dog’s Mood Changed? 

Photo by Estée Janssens

The Mood change in a dog can happen for various reasons: an illness that is making them uncomfortable, old age or even depression.

If they seem dull or depressed, and the family has experienced a loss either human or of another pet, your dog may be grieving.

If your pet’s mood changed suddenly and no loss has occurred in the family, track their mood 3 times a day over a period of 3 days, and score each assessment 1 to 5 (one being a bad day).

if the lower score (1 to 3) out weights the higher score (4 and 5), speak with your vet as an underlying problem may be brewing.

Is Your Dog In Pain?

If your dog is limping, has difficulty standing or is crying out when moving, then he/she is in pain

Some dogs will have pain from arthritis as they age. Many large dogs will have hip and knee pain that gets worse as they get older.  

If your dog is experiencing pain, there are many pain medications and supplements that your veterinarian can prescribe to help them feel much better.  

However, after a little while dogs will build up a tolerance to pain medication, or the pain will become so severe that the medication cannot control it. If this is the case your dog’s quality of life may be deteriorating.

Is Your Dog Panting?

Having trouble breathing can mean that your dog is suffering from pneumonia, heart failure, cancer in the lungs, or another heart or lung disease.  

Your veterinarian can help you figure out what is going on with your dog and help you with treatment for that problem.  

When your pet is having trouble breathing, this can be very scary for both you and them. So, if your dog is suddenly panting heavily, try cooling them off and get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Is Your Dog Trembling or Shaking?

Trembling or Shaking can mean something serious such as poisoning, kidney disease, or injury may be happening. However, other times it simply means they are nervous, scared or too cold.

If the shaking or trembling starts suddenly; take your pet to the vets straight away in case it is something sinistrous. 

Your veterinarian can examine your dog and help determine the reason for this trembling or shaking.  

Is Your Dog Vomiting and/or Nauseous?

Dogs are notorious for eating things that they should not eat, poo, socks, toys, etc.  

This will usually cause them to have an upset stomach for a few days, and they will vomit or feel nauseated, this can be easily treated at your veterinary clinic.  

However, sometimes this nausea and vomiting are due to an underlying disease.  

Most of these diseases can be controlled for a while but may end up being a reason that you would need to have your pet put down. 

If your dog is unable to keep any food or water down, we recommend you take them to the veterinarian straight away rather than waiting to assess them. This is in case it is an underlying disease rather than a sock or toy.

Is Your Dog Eating?

Loss of appetite in a dog can mean illness. In other cases, old age will also cause a loss of appetite.

Track how much and often your dog is eating over a period of 3 days.     

If your dog is not wanting to eat on their own or having trouble keeping all the food that they are eating down, mark that day with a low score. If they are eating as normal, mark that day with a 5.

If the lower scores (1 to 3) outweigh the higher scores (4 and 5), it may be that their quality of life is deteriorating.

Speak to your veterinarian. Some dogs may end up being syringe fed or have a feeding tube. This will help them receive the needed calories that they require, but sometimes this can be a daily struggle.  

Drinking Water

Drinking water is essential as it is the way we all replenish fluids in our bodies.

However, excess water intake that is more than normal or occurs without a cause, maybe a sign that something is not right.

On the other hand no drinking water at all, it is also a sign that something is not right.

There are many reasons that your dog may be drinking more water than usual, or may not be drinking water at all.  

Diabetes, for example, will increase water consumption. However, sometimes a dog is very sick, and drinking water may be making them nauseated, thus they stay away from water altogether.  

The amount of water a dog should be drinking varies depending on diet. If the dog has a raw diet, the chances are they do not require as much water consumption as those dogs that are fed dry food.

As a general rule, dogs drink in approximately 20-70ml/kg per day.

Track their drinking behavior over a period of 3 days, by scoring each day 1 to 5.

If the lower score (1 to 3) outweighs the higher scores (4 and 5), speak to your veterinarian. They will help you determine the next step.

Is Your Dog Losing Weight?

Older dogs will tend to have trouble keeping weight on.  

Chart your dog’s body weight over a period of a month or more. If they are losing too much weight and an increase in food is not helping keep that ideal weight on, then speak to your veterinarian.

However, if the weight loss is sudden, take your dog to the veterinarian straight away as it may be an indication that something serious is happening.

Does Your Dog Have Control Of Their Bowel Movements?

You should always monitor the bowel movements of your dog.  

By watching their stools, you will know when something is wrong.  

If your dog has diarrhea or bloody stools, this may be a sign of a serious disease.  

As a dog ages, they may produce less stool than normal or become constipated. These could just be simple gastroenteritis or the beginnings of a very bad disease.  

Monitor their bowel movement over a period of 3 days and score each day 1 to 5.

If no bowel movement happens on those 3 days, or the stools have blood, or the dog has diarrhea for 3 days, take them to the veterinarian, and they can help you determine what is causing the problem with your dog’s bowel movement.  

Is Your Dog Still Mobile?

Dogs have trouble with mobility as they age. This may be due to the weakening of the joints and pain from arthritis.  

If your dog is having trouble getting around, there are pain medications and joint supplements that can get your dog back moving as they did when they were young.  

However, eventually, no medication will be able to control your dog’s pain. At that time, you may have to consider putting your dog down.  

Is Your Dog Weak And / Or Lethargic?

Dogs will become weak and lethargic as they age. Some of the weaknesses can be treated with physical therapy to help strengthen their muscles. 

However, there are certain diseases such as kidney failure or heart failure that will make your pet weak and/or lethargic. 

While these can be controlled with medications, this is not always the case and sometimes medication will stop working. In this case, your veterinarian will help you assess your options.

Does Your Dog Have A Clean Appearance?

Older dogs have trouble keeping themselves clean.  

Some will have mobility issues preventing them from reaching everywhere. 

Track your dog’s ability to keep themselves clean over a period of 3 days and score each day 1 to 5.  

Does Your Dog Have A Normal Coat Appearance?

As your pet ages, their coat will no longer be nice and shiny.  

Sometimes this unkempt coat appearance is due to an underlying disease.  

Sometimes these problems can be easily fixed, but many of the times, these are lifelong conditions.  

If your dog has an unkempt coat appearance, speak to your veterinarian to asses the problem and your options. 

How Do I Know When It Is Time to euthanize my dog?

Making the decision to put your beloved fairy companion down is not an easy one. But by using the above checklist, you can assess how your dog’s quality of life is. 

If your pet has been diagnosed with a disease, consider charting the above points on a period of weeks or even a couple of months to see the deterioration rate.

If your dog is not enjoying life, and the assessment shows that their quality of life is poor; then putting your dog down may be the only option left.

What Is Euthanasia 

Euthanasia is the painless way of putting a dog to sleep when its quality of life has declined and suffering must end. 

Euthanise may be needed because the pet reaches the end of his or her life span, or is suffering from an incurable and painful disease.  

No owner likes to see their pet suffering and in pain. Thus, when the discomfort of our beloved pets can no longer be controlled with medication, veterinarians can end their suffering by euthanizing them.

You will usually be asked if you would like to be present during euthanasia.  Most owners prefer to be with their dog during the procedure; others prefer to stay only until their pet is unconscious.  Occasionally, owners find it too painful to be present at all. Whatever you decide to do is ok. It is a difficult and emotional decision and thus you must do whatever you are comfortable with.

How Does Euthanasia Work? 

The American Veterinary Medical Association sets standards for veterinary euthanasia. Animals must be euthanized humanely. 

During the process, your dog will feel the placement of the intravenous catheter, which is a needle stick, but the euthanasia procedure should be painless.  

Most pets pass away very peacefully when euthanized; they simply fall asleep.

The two steps most veterinarians follow are:

  • Step one – one idea behind humane euthanasia is that the pet is unconscious before death. For this, your dog will be given a strong sedative, which will render him or her unconscious. Some veterinarians will place an intravenous catheter in a vein, usually the front leg. This is the same type of catheter that is used to administer medications or fluids to humans. The catheter allows access to the vein, to administer medications so that multiple needle sticks are avoided. Other veterinarians will administer the sedative without a catheter by directly injecting the dog in the back leg muscle. The sedative will take about 5 to 10 minutes to take effect fully. During this time your dog will be able to hear you, see you, and feel you pet him until he is asleep. 
  • Step two – once your dog is unconscious, the veterinarian will euthanize him/her by administering the euthanasia drug call Pentobarbital. The drug takes effect very rapidly. Typically, by the time the final bit of the medicine is pushed through the syringe, the pet is deceased.  

It is worth noting that dogs may twitch, pass urine or faces, or even gasp after death. Although disturbing, it is all-natural and your pet is not in pain or in distress when or if this happens.

Some circumstances require different protocols for euthanasia

Aggressive dogs may require different types of sedatives that are injected into the muscle.

In other cases, old, small, or dehydrated pets may have poor quality veins. Therefore Intravenous catheter placement may be difficult. In this instance, the sedative may be administered via gas instead of an injection.

In some of these circumstances, it may not be possible for you to be present during the procedure.  

How Much Does It Cost To Put Down A Dog 

The cost of the euthanasia service can range from $50 to $300+, depending on location, the method that your veterinarian prefers to use, and when you need to euthanize your dog.

If you euthanize your dog at your normal veterinary clinic in normal business hours, it will be cheaper than euthanizing them at an emergency clinic on weekends or holidays.  

Is It Inhumane To Let A Dog Die Naturally?

There are times when you may have the option between natural death or euthanize. 

If you decide for a natural death ensure your vet is involved all the way through, to be sure that you are doing everything you can to make your dog as comfortable as possible.  

Perhaps consider a pet hospice rather than home, as these places will have the necessary resources to make your dog comfortable all the way through.

In most cases, euthanasia may be the more humane option. This is because natural death may involve prolonged suffering.  

If you want your furry friend to die at home, some veterinarians will make house calls for euthanasia. Check with your vets to see if they provide this service, if not you may find one here

This is a great service for those dogs who hate car rides or the vet’s office, or for those large dogs who can no longer stand, and owners cannot physically lift them in the car. 

However, keep in mind that both services, pet hospice and house calls for euthanasia, will increase the cost of the whole process. 

What To Do With Dog After Death? 

It is beneficial to think about the end of life decisions before the time comes.

This allows yourself time to make the decisions that are right for you, so you don’t have to make them last minute when grieving and under stress. 

There are many decisions to be made. Do you want your furry friend to be buried or cremated? Do you want communal or private cremation? Do you want an urn that is at home with you or one that you can bury? 

Let’s break these questions down.

Burial vs Cremation

  • Burial provides a permanent place for you to visit and honor your pet. Burial may be at a pet cemetery, at your home, or even some human cemeteries have a section for pets.

If your desired option is to bury your pet at home, check our article Is It Legal To Bury Pets In The backyard. Some states/cities in the USA do not allow pet burial at home, and some have certain rules that you need to follow if your pet is to return to mother earth. This article will guide you on this process.

  • Cremation allows your pet to return to his natural state more quickly. You can spread your dog’s ashes at a place he enjoyed such as the park or your garden, or you can keep them at home. If spreading the ashes in your garden or in a park be careful, as a large quantity of ashes concentrated in one area can change the soil pH level thus potentially harming some plants.

Our article, Are Pet Ashes Good For Plants, will help you spread the ashes without harming the places that gave your beloved furry friend so many happy times.

When discussing cremation,  you may hear the terms communal cremation and private cremation.  

  • Communal cremation means that your pet will be cremated at the same time as other pets, in the same cremation chamber. This means that you will not be able to have your pet’s ashes back. The cremation service will collect the ashes of all pets in the cremation chamber and dispose of them. Most cremation services will scatter the ashes after each communal cremation. This service costs approximately $40.00UDS
  • Private cremation means that your pet will be cremated individually in a cremation chamber, and the ashes will be returned to you. The ashes may be returned in a standard wooden box urn or a plastic bag. Or you can choose a personalized urn from the cremation parla. However, this may be more expensive and the selection may be more limited to those you can find on the internet. Private cremation costs between $100 to over $1,000 USD depending on how big your dog is and the type of urn or memorial you pick out.  

Whether you decide to buried or cremate your furry friend, your dog will be picked up from your veterinarian and transported to the final destination. If however, you choose to bury your dog at home, the body will have to be transported by you. 

Choosing A Pet Urn

When choosing the urn form the internet consider your budget, the size of the urn, whether you want to bury the ashes on a biodegradable urn or a nonbiodegradable urn, or whether you want to keep the ashes at home:

  • Budget: Urns can vary in price from as little as $30USD to as much as $300USD+.
  • What size urn do you need?: The general rule to determining the appropriate size for an urn is, for every pound of your pet’s total weight you will need one cubic inch (2.5cms) of space plus 10 cubic inches (25.4cms) for good measure. For example: If your pet weighs 40 lbs (18kgs). you will need an urn that is 44 cubic inches (112cms) or larger.
  • The urn: The selections are endless. To keep the ashes at home you can choose Pet Figurine Urns, Wooden Pet Urns, Pet Photo Urns, Natural Stone Pet Urns, Metal Pet Urns, etc… to bury the ashes in the garden you can choose either a biodegradable or a nonbiodegradable pet urn.

If considering a biodegradable urn, we have reviewed The Best Biodegradable pet Urns in the market to date. This article has been written with you and your furry friend in mind. To your dog, it will give him/her an urn where they can rest is peace; and to you, it will provide the practicalities you need when choosing an urn: cost, size, and materials used.

Memorializing Your Dog

There are many ways to memorialize your dog:

  • Write an obituary
  • Hold a memorial service
  • Create a photo journal
  • Create a memorial garden. This is a great way to create a place of peace, seclusion, and tranquillity to reflect on the wonderful memories your furry friend left you.

If a memorial garden is the way, or one of the ways you choose to memorialize your dog’s memory; our article 10 best garden plants for pet memorial is a must-read. This article will give you the various factors to be considered for a memorial spot that thrives, couple with a description for our 10 favorite shrubs and trees for a memorial spot full of color, succulent smells and a spot that will give comfort to you and animals such as birds, bees and butterflies.

How to Say Goodbye

Make sure all the family members have a chance to say goodbye.  

For children, many books can help explain the process of death and grief.  

To say goodbye some people will get their dog a treat on their last day. This may be an ice cream or even a steak. Depending on what is causing you to have your dog put down, a treat may be a great way to say goodbye and to let them know how special they are. 

However, some dogs are very sick at the end of their life, and food may make them nauseated. This would not be the time to try and offer them food, instead loads of cuddles and kisses will be the best way to say goodbye and tell them how special they are.  

Some people will have a fun day planned for their dog on their last days. But they may not want to go for a jog around the park like the used to, or have vigorous activities or even have a packed day of things to do. Let your dog guide you on what they want and have the energy for. 

They may want to take a very slow walk or even lay outside in the sunshine, as long as they are with you, they will be happy.  

Grieving For a Pet

Losing a dog is hard for everyone, but the grieving process is different for each family member.

Some people have a harder time than others with the grieving process. Some people feel sad all the time, while others have their sadness comes in waves. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  

Feeling sad and lonely is a normal reaction to pet loss. Trying to ignore this emotional pain will usually make it worse.  

If you are having a hard time, make sure you take time for yourself, don’t let others tell you when its time to ‘move on’ or how should you be feeling, and talk, talk, talk.

There are many people that you can talk to that can help with the grieving process.  The ASPCA has a Pet Loss Hotline (1-877-474-3310) with a grief counselor at the other end.

Conclusion

Making the decision to put your dog down can be very challenging, but the quality of life scale, along with your veterinarian can aid you with this decision. 

Discuss your concerns with your veterinarian as they can be a great unbiased helper when assessing your dog’s quality of life. 

While the day that you have to let your dog go may be one of the hardest days of your life. Remember all the good times and joy that they brought to your life.  

After you have some time to heal from the loss, these happy moments will be with you for the rest of your life. 

Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM

Raised in Calhoun, LA, Sara attended Louisiana Tech for her undergraduate school, and afterwards St. George University to complete veterinary school. After veterinary school Dr. Ochoa moved to east Texas to work in a small animal an exotic veterinarian. She lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies Ruby the schnoodle, Monkey the tortoise and Oliver James “OJ” the cat. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world with her husband, baking, and taking Ruby shopping.

Recent Content