When the time comes to say goodbye, all dog parents hope their pets peacefully pass away after a long, happy life. The unfortunate reality, however, is senior dogs and dogs suffering from illness or injury most often rely on their owners to know when it’s time to cross the Rainbow Bridge. Choosing to end a life—a life you’ve cherished as part of the family—is an impossibly difficult decision, but preventing suffering is your biggest concern.
No one wants their best friend to suffer, and veterinarians guide dog owners in how to tell when illness or advanced age has become too much for a pet to bear. There is no clear answer to when it’s time to say goodbye, but there are signs to look for to help make this important decision. Having one or two of the following symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your dog’s time, but noticing several of these signs indicates it might be time to talk to your vet about a peaceful end of life plan.
1. Loss of Appetite
For most dogs, eating is their favorite thing to do. They enthusiastically chomp down dinner and accept every treat offered and left unguarded. When a dog suddenly or gradually stops showing an interest in meal time, it’s a sign something isn’t right. As organs shut down, the dog loses their sensation of hunger and thirst. Eating is suddenly more effort than it’s worth, and even the juiciest steak can’t tempt them into chewing. Health will continue to decline without a healthy diet. Temporary fasting could be caused by something as benign as a stomach ache, but if meals go untouched for several days in a row, it’s time to speak to a veterinarian.
2. Extreme Weight Loss
Gradual weight loss isn’t easy to spot. Most dogs step on a scale once a year at their annual vet check-up. If their owner isn’t picking them up on a regular basis, gradual weight loss can easily go unnoticed. It doesn’t happen all at once, but one day a dog owner might notice their pooch looking especially thin. It could be related to a lack of appetite or their body’s inability to process nutrients.
3. Chronic Pain
A dog can’t tell you when they don’t feel well, and that makes recognizing the signs of chronic pain especially challenging. The key is to pay close attention to the dog’s body language, movements, and behaviors. Sometimes pain can be managed with medication or regular physical therapy, and sometimes it can’t. Pain management strategies that used to work in the past can stop being effective. If your dog doesn’t seem to perk up after taking medication, or if their regular physical therapy routine no longer seems useful, their pain is negatively—and most likely permanently—affecting quality of life.
4. Loss of Interest
Veterinarian and VetStreet contributor Dr. Andy Roark suggests dog owners measure quality of life by making a list of their pet’s five favorite things to do. The list could include playing fetch, eating, or greeting their owner every time they come through the door. It’s important to make your list based on what your dog liked doing when you knew they were healthy and happy. Dr. Roark says,
“When he or she can no longer do three or more of [the items on the list], quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.”