© 2018 Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
“When should I euthanize my dog?” is a question I’m frequently asked. I make it my policy to never tell dog owners if or when they should euthanize their dog. Please remember, no one can make this decision for you – not a dog trainer, not a behaviorist, not a veterinarian, no one. This is a decision that is ultimately best made by a loving owner.
"My personal experience is that I have waited too long to euthanize my dogs when their physical illnesses became overwhelming for them."
I’ve provided some thoughts below from my years of experience dealing with this issue both personally and with many clients. Hopefully, these thoughts might make your process a little easier.
There are two basic reasons that are considerations for euthanizing a dog. One is for behavioral issues and the other is for physical issues.
Euthanizing for Behavior Issues
There is primarily one reason dog owners consider euthanizing their dog for behavior issues. That issue is moderate to severe human aggression. There are other behavioral instances where euthanasia is a consideration, but this is the most common.
It’s one thing for dogs to aggress to other dogs, but it’s another thing entirely when their aggression is turned toward humans. Moderate to severe human directed aggression can involve human safety, liability issues and even criminal considerations for the owners.
It’s not as simple as just determining if a dog is human aggressive when considering euthanasia. The type of aggression (for more information about types of dog aggression, see Did you know there are 8 types of dog aggression?), intensity of aggression, how long the dog has been presenting with the behavior, size of the dog, human bite history and whether there are treatment options with a realistic positive prognosis. This can be a complicated decision process.
Dog owners frequently forget dogs that are significantly aggressive are also fearful and anxious too. Their quality of life may not be particularly good as a result.
The number of dogs being euthanized for behavioral issues is much larger than most people realize – this is especially true in animal shelters. In addition to aggression, dogs are euthanized for separation anxiety, resource guarding and even just unruly behaviors. Many of these less serious behavior issues can often be addressed with the help of a competent certified dog behavior specialist or animal behaviorist.
To learn more about realistic treatment options for human aggressive dogs, see The 2 Options for Owners of Moderately-Severely Aggressive Dogs.
Euthanizing for Physical Issues
Physical reasons are the number one reason dogs are euthanized. Illness, old age and pain are just some of the considerations that fit in this category. After working with many families during this difficult time, I have learned the following.
It might be time to put a dog to rest when allowing the dog to live any longer is unfair to the owner and/or to the dog itself. When the hardship for the owner becomes almost unbearable and/or when the dog’s suffering is almost unbearable, it may be time.
I’ve read all the books and taken all the seminars on this subject and have found that the fairness consideration noted above is by far the best guide in making this difficult decision.
My personal experience is that I have waited too long to euthanize my dogs when their physical illnesses became overwhelming for them. I had one dog in particular, Clipper, that was very seriously ill. A veterinarian talked me out of putting him to sleep and the next two months of his life were absolutely miserable for him. He sadly died in severe pain in the emergency room of a pet hospital.
I was right. I should have let him go two months earlier. I knew my dog better than anyone else – certainly better than the veterinarian did in that instance.
If you ever have to euthanize a dog (and most multi-dog owners ultimately have to), please know that you will go through a period of guilt, grieving and loss. It’s normal and to be expected. Ensure you have someone that understands and can hold your hand through the process.
If you are currently dealing with end-of-life issues with your dog, God bless you. No one can possibly understand the pain this brings. It’s really tough.