Choosing When to Euthanize

I have a 17-year-old Newfoundland-Lab mix, Bear. His health is going downhill, and he is on pain medication and glucosamine. In addition, his back legs are wobbly and he falls over when they give out.

Bear has so much heart that I am afraid he will not show us when he is in real pain. He means the whole world to our family, especially me. I have been asking Jesus for a sign and looking for a sign from Bear that he is ready to go to heaven. How do I really know when to euthanize him? I don’t want him to suffer.

– Wolf, ASPCA Guardian

Wolf, your question is the most important one a loving owner can ask himself. I recently heard a vet say to a pet parent: “Your dog is going downhill. Do you want to wait until he gets to the bottom?” This is exactly the right question.

Given Bear’s age and current discomfort and disability, euthanasia now could be considered a blessing for him. It assures that he will not suffer a terminal phase that may involve a medical emergency, such as seizures or severe pain. If you wait too long for a “sign,” you may have to live with the regret that he suffered while you were out of the house or unable to help him.

Some people find it helpful to make the appointment for euthanasia for a time in the near future, and then spend the days leading to the appointment saying goodbye and doing special things for their pet. When the day comes, you can always cancel the appointment if you change your mind. The challenge you have is to make a clear distinction between your anticipation of loss from Bear’s need to be free of a deteriorating body.

Thank you for your wonderful care for animals in general, and especially for the quality of life you have given your beloved dog.

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