How Do You Know When It's Time?

Updated on January 14, 2009
T.W. asks from Cincinnati, OH
24 answers

I have a ten year old, hundred and five pound black lab/collie mix. He has been with me for a long, long time. He's getting old fast. My daughter has never known life without him. I'm wondering if anyone has any advice on how to know it's time to put him to sleep (I can't seem to find a medium between him jumping in the car to go to the vet and waiting until he's so miserable he can't even get in the car himself) and how I talk to my three year old about it. What do I tell her? He's been falling A LOT, his back hips have become pretty weak, he is developing some bowel control issues and is just all around getting old. I'm not looking at putting him to sleep now, but I do know the time is approaching and I'm trying to be humane and get an idea of what others have done or might suggest. Any information would be helpful.

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So What Happened?

I know it's been quite a while since I posed this question but I thought an update was better late than never. First I want to thank everyone for their gracious support and information with such a difficult topic. At the time I asked the question I knew it wasn't his time YET but I knew Kody wouldn't be with us much longer. I don't remember if I read it here or elsewhere but somewhere I received a message that said, "I'd rather put my dog to sleep one day too soon than have him suffer one day too long." That was something that stuck in my soul. It turned out that he got injured in a manner that disrupted his breathing, his tongue turned purple and I knew it was time. I had our vet come to our house in March of 2009 to put our boy to sleep. To this day my daughter blows a kiss to Heaven every night and is always speculating what cloud he is on watching us. We still miss him but hope to be able to get a new dog very very soon. Thanks again to everyone.

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M.C.

answers from Cleveland on

Hi Tara,
We had a dog that was getting stiff and weak and we gave her Replenex from Melaleuca after about 2 weeks she was back to her old self. I continue to give it to her everyday
If you want to know how to get it let me know
M.

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P.R.

answers from Indianapolis on

Is the dog is pain? Are the bowel issues controlable with a change in his diet? I had labs for years. Lost one at 6 due to cancer (yes, I had her put down) and one a 4 due to his being hit by a car when the other lab (a chocolate who had belonged to my mom opened the screen door and let them both out. When Decker saw my husband going for the van he knew he would get a car ride and ran into the road and a man going 20 miles over the speed limit hit him). My other 4 labs all lived until 12 or 13 before we had to think about this issue.
I would think about getting a puppy or younger dog now, it will make the transition easier for your daughter and somehow it seems to revitalize the older dog as well. Talk to your vet about the hip problem, it could be arthritis and aspirin will help as can the change in diet.
If the vet thinks there is nothing you can to help him with the hips and the bowel control issues then I would consider putting him to sleep before he is in constant pain.
Death is a natural part of life. Easier to learn about it from losing a pet than losing a human part of your family.

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T.K.

answers from Indianapolis on

It is such a hard time and such a hard question. Ultametly you know what's best for you and your dog. For me I just really felt like her good days were far too few for the suffering she did daily. She was up and down for months, she'd crash and then perk up, the last time she really didn't perk up and I knew it was time. My daughter was 3 1/2. I had just lost my grandmother so we had kind of already went through discussing that all living things die. Now I don't pretend to know your religous beliefs, but we are Christians and my daughter attends preschool at our church so God was a very relevant thing to her. We told her that GG (my grandmother) and Claire (my dog) went to be with God in Heaven. After I was asked, I told her that I like to think of heaven as a beautiful place up in the sky. We only went further when she had more questions. Sometimes the simpler the better. Many Christians will tell you that pet/animals don't have souls and don't have a place at the right hand of God. I believe that if heaven is a utopia, then my Claire has to be there with me, therefore she's there waiting for me until I arrive, just like every other day of her life.
Lastly, I had Claire cremated and have her ashes. Your vet should be able to do what's called a private cremation where you will only get YOUR pets ashes. One of the reasons this is nice is I didn't have to explain to my daughter about burial etc.

Sorry I was so lenghty and sorry for the multiple typos.

God Bless.

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M.H.

answers from Indianapolis on

I can empathize with your struggle. Like you, our dog was our "baby" before we had children. In fact, we had two westies that were like our children for nine years prior to the birth of our son. The death of our older dog was out of our hands, but the second dog was becoming incontinent and sleeping nearly all the time. She had random occasional bursts of her happy self and seemed to still wag her tail and enjoy our children, so deciding when she was not longer enjoying any quality of life was tricky. I surly didn't want to end it with some quality of life and joy apparent. In the end, she had a collapse (her heart) that sent her to the vet and he watched her overnight. Sadly, she passed away at the vets office while under supervision - but since she died overnight, I am haunted that no one she loved was there for her in her last hours.

Please learn from my mistake and let your dog pass while looking into his loving eyes and not alone if you can help it. He will be comforted that you did not allow him to go so long that he is in terrible pain and joy is unrecognizable. Your story shows how much love you have for both you pet and your children. My children were sad, but the grief was much harder on me since I had my dogs from little puppies and felt like their Mommy. I'll say a prayer that all works out for you and the wisdom will come. God Bless.

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N.N.

answers from Columbus on

I knew it was time when I looked into my pet's eyes and I could see that he no longer enjoyed living. His light had gone out. In the wild, an animal who no longer enjoyed living would be gone already, domisticated we allow them to suffer. When to put down our 2 dogs were the hardest decisions that I ever had to make, but I know it was right for them. One of the other moms suggested the book I'll Always Love You, which is an excellent book, we also have one called "Dog Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant. It talks about what dogs do when they get to heaven and how they watch over their owners back on earth. God is portrayed as a loving old grandpa who gives all the angel dogs sandwhiches and dog cookies. They play ball and chase butterflies all day. Every angel dog is loved whether they had a family on earth or not and every angel dog is a "good dog." My children love this story and often talk about our dogs, Morphie and Medic, playing ball in heaven, because when they left earth they were no longer able to do that. No one knows except you when the time is right, but you will know. I knew before my husband, he was mad when I scheduled the appointment. Then the on his last night Medic could no longer walk up the driveway to our house and my husband had to carry him. He knew then that it was time. Good luck with this very painful decision.

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K.

answers from Columbus on

10 doesn't seem THAT old. Is he sick? Is anything physically wrong with him other than "old age?" I would say that unless he's suffering I wouldn't do it yet. As long as he's happy with life and is managing to get around without pain, then wait - he may still have a few good years left. :) Of course, if he is suffering or is in a great deal of pain, that is a totally different story. What does your vet say?

I only ask all of these questions to try to help you think of all aspects. I've had to put a few very dear family pets to sleep and it is such a hard thing to do and the feelings of guilt aftewards take some time to get over (for me, at least).

Whatever happens, it's up to you what you tell your daughter but try to be honest and let her know that he'll always be with you all in your hearts. (I didn't tell my kids that we had to put our pets to sleep, just that they were sick and when I took them to the vet they died.) When the time comes, maybe you could find a cute stuffed dog that resembles yours to give to your daughter so she'll always have him with her. That helped my daughter (who was 4) this summer when we had to have our cat put to sleep. Good luck and hang in there!

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B.K.

answers from Columbus on

I had to deal with this when my daughter was two, and will have to do it again soon with my second dog. The first time we simply said she went to be with the stars, and that was fine. Now with her being three, I will probably look to the library for some childrens books that deal with a loss of a pet. As far as to knowing "when"... I would talk to your vet. They might have some good advice. I am sure your daughter will have many more questions and emotions this time around. Good luck to you and your family, such an emotional time for all.

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T.G.

answers from Indianapolis on

Oh my goodness. I am a huge animal lover, so this subject hits very much home for me. I would not do it until you know he is suffering. If he still seems to be enjoying life and enjoying his family, let him live....

I know it is the saddest thing in the world. I had to put down my Boxer and my pug in the same month because one got so depressed after the other died they completely fell part in just a few weeks. :(

It is important to tell your young child about death truthfully. Sheltering them from it makes them unable to cope with death later in life.

Good luck. I truly feel for you.

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B.B.

answers from South Bend on

Maybe get a new puppy or dog first, so she'll have something to concentrate on.

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A.N.

answers from Cleveland on

I think it is time when his quality of life is so poor that he is rarely happy and is in pain more than he is not. See what your vet thinks. When the time comes, there is a wonderful book called "Dog Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant, I believe. I'm so sorry you are going through this. We are a dog loving family, and it is never easy to lose a member of the family.

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P.N.

answers from Cincinnati on

Tara,

It's a really tough decision, and you have my sympathy. When it was time to put my first cat, Josie, down, I asked our vet the same question. He told me this - if you're asking the question, then it isn't time. When it's time you'll know.

From my experience, he was right. We've had to put two cats down. Josie had liver failure, and Bubbles had untreatable thyroid cancer. We kept them with us as long as they enjoyed living. But, once they were clearly suffering and the vet couldn't offer us any hope, we knew it was time.

One other thought - another dear friend worked at a pet shelter and she gave me this advice: When you have to put a pet to sleep, you owe it to them to be there with them at the bitter end. That was the toughest thing I've ever done, but I believe it gave them a little comfort.

Good luck with whatever you choose.

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D.H.

answers from Toledo on

Talk with your vet, between the 2 of you there is going to be a time when calling the vet is all that,s left. Try to keep puppy pads down so the bm is not anywhere near your daughter. Good luck to you.

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A.S.

answers from Canton on

I have a lab/golden retreiver mix and he is 9 yrs old. He started having trouble with arthritis in his hips this past year and my vet told me to give him 500mg glucosomine and 500mg vitamin c everyday. I saw a huge diffence in him in about 1-2 weeks. Talk to your vet about it. My dog was sick last may and i didn't know if he was going to make it and i had a very hard time! I to have had him a long time and my 7 yr old son has never known life without him. Luckily he pulled thru and is back to his old self. Good luck! I know your pet is like another child!

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D.G.

answers from Columbus on

Tara ,
If he is in this bad a shape you really need to see a vet.And talk to him about your loving pet. He has to be in pain if his back legs are weak and if he is soiling himself it is way past time. It is not right or fair for your pet to suffer.
In November I had to make that awful dicision about my 22 1/2 year old cat.It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made but he is not suffering any longer.It still makes me cry. I miss him terribly even though I have 4 other cats.
Children take a pets death a lot easier than we do as adults. I don't know what your religious beliefs are but you might tell your little girl that he had to go to "Doggy" heaven.If she understands that concept great.
I would replace your dog as soon as you are comfortable with it.Kids and animals are a wonderful mixture for a happy healthy home.

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C.E.

answers from Canton on

You can just tell by the look in your pet's face when they look at you that it's time to let them go. I had to put down 2 within 4 years and I realized that I wanted each of them to have a better quality of life than what they had as they want to get up and run and play and love without pain. As far as telling your child that is very important - the first pet I had was wehn I was pregnant so he did not know him the second he did know; therefore when the decision was made to put Nero to sleep I brought my then 3 year old in to say his goodbyes while he was still awake - left and had my father take the dog to be burried at the family farm and then we left a balloon to heaven within the next few days for him as well as every once in awhile we'll drive by "his little place" and leave a momento. My son is now 7.

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D.N.

answers from Columbus on

Hi Tara, it's heartbreaking to hear your story. I know pets are like a real family member, it sounds like your dog is starting to suffer alot, probably more than what you know, because they can't tell you what hurts. Explain to your daughter that he is very ill, and that he won't get any better. tell her that he will be going to heaven soon,and if she wants and you agree, then you can get another dog/ I hope this helped you in some way. Good luck.

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K.Y.

answers from Canton on

thebest advise is talk to your vet.also if you can find a poem called over the rainbow bridge that would give you some comfort.there is a website in canada called over the rainbow bridge where they lite acandle for your pet.also tell the child a good version of GOD wanted the dog .it will be very hard as we consider an animal/pet a part of our family.or even our family.K.

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K.Z.

answers from Cleveland on

Hi Tara,

I don't have much specific advice since I really haven't had to deal with this much--but you might want to check the past postings. There was one shortly before Christmas about a dog who seemed to be in much worse shape than yours, you might find some insight there.

When we thought this issue would arise with our (now deceased) cat some years ago,one of the things our vet said to watch for was when he (cat) no longer "seemed to be himself" (consistently, not just one of those "off-day" things). I don't know if that helps or not...

Do talk to your vet, as others have said.

I feel for you--probably many of us either have been in your situation or know we are likely to be there at some point.

Good luck!

K. Z.

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M.H.

answers from Cincinnati on

Hi Tara,
I know it's a hard time for you, and for that I am sorry. I would talk with your Vet and see what they suggest. I had a black lab who had gotten sick, at first they told me she had 1 yr, then it dropped to 6 months. Two weeks after I was told that, she was so sick, I just knew it was time. I called my vet who agreed and the next day I had to put her to sleep. When the vet asked me if I was ready, I said no, but my darling girl was...she lifted her head off the table and kissed me, like she was letting me know it was ok, then laid back down.

Now I have a yellow lab who is turning 9 this month. My 2 1/2 yr old and her are very close, and I know it will a hard time when it is her time to go. But in preparation, I got this book titled "I'll Always Love You" by Hans Wilhelm. It's about a boy who's loses his doggie. It deals with the situation very well, and I hope when the time comes it is something that will help my daughter, but I know that only time can heal...Good luck and you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

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S.L.

answers from Columbus on

Dear Tara,

I am so very sorry to hear that your best friend is in the twilight of his life.

I am a volunteer on the pet loss web site : http://www.rainbowbridge.com

It's a wonderful site where people share their sorrows at times of loss and impending loss, and their joys when they open their hearts to love again. I would encourage you to visit the site and read some of the messages on the pet loss forum, or go to the pet loss chat room in the evenings. When you first enter the site, you will see a link to a page with some discussion about your question "How will I know when it's time?" I have always believed that if we truly connect with our best friends, if they need our assistance, they will let us know when they are tired and ready to go. Otherwise, they will quietly leave on their own under peaceful circumstances.

At RainbowsBridge.com there is also a pet health forum, although it's not as busy as the loss forum. Whenever I post on the health board, I usually leave an alert about my post (or just cross post) on the pet loss forum to be sure someone will see the message and reply.

When I first found my way to the site in 2004, I read something that has always stuck with me. One of the people who was posting there at the time said, "I would rather assist her (on her final journey) a week too soon than a moment too late." In other words, he would rather prevent suffering than let his dog suffer before releasing her to the Rainbow Bridge.

Speaking of which, are you familiar with the story of the Rainbow Bridge? If you send me a private message, I'll be glad to send it along to you, or you can read it when you visit the site.

I also have a lovely story that was written as a parable to help to explain death to young children. It's called The Dragonfly. I can send it to you to help you explain the situation to your daughter. It will also be a tremendous comfort to you when the time comes for you to make that last trip to the vet, only to return home alone, missing such a faithful friend.

No matter when you make the decision, remember that you are doing the best you can with the information you have at the time. Your dog will understand that your decision is made out of love for him, and a desire to prevent him from suffering. Try to let him tell you when the time is right, and always tell him that he need not stay here for you. I swear to you, they understand, and giving them permission to go is one of the most important things you can do.

Here's a link to another wonderful site that has prayers and blessings for our animal companions: http://www.beliefnet.com/Love-Family/Pets/2008/12/Pet-Pra...

You, your daughter, and your beautiful dog are in my thoughts and prareyrs. Please feel free to send me a private message if you need support, comfort, or any other information regarding your loss.

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F.R.

answers from Columbus on

Tara...sorry to hear about your dog. The main thing you have to keep in mind is quality of life. When he gets to the point that he can't do things (get up to eat, drink etc.) or it is to much for you to help him with. Then it is time. We recently put out youngest cat (she was 5) to sleep. My son now 7 chose to go with me to do this. We have put 1 dog (mine from high school) and 2 cats (one was 16- and the other I mentioned) to sleep since he was 3. I have always been very honest with him about our beliefs. That our souls go to live with God when our earth bodies wear out. When they just can't work any more (earthbodies) our souls just know it is time to go to heaven. Where they live forever. It seemed to help him and he was able to associate it later on when my cousin passed this last year. Good luck you to you and your family.

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M.S.

answers from Lafayette on

I think you will know. As long as he is still happy and doesn't seem to be too bothered by his issues I would let him live. If you are lucky he will go on his own if not wait until he is clearly not happy anymore and seems to be in pain and miserable for more than just a day here and there. Everyone/thing has a bad day every now and then especially when we get older. We all have to learn about life and death sooner or later, unfortunately your daughter will have to learn a little earlier than most. Just be honest with her and be sure to let her know that he feels better now and he is happy again. I am sorry you will have to go through this I know it really stinks been there a few times. Also remember there are LOTS of animals in need at shelters now more than ever due to the economy. You'll never replace him but you can rescue another lost soul in his honor. That would probably also help your daughter deal with the loss.

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C.W.

answers from Cincinnati on

Our dog Snoopy had a heart condition added to what your dog is displaying. The vet said wait until his tounge turned blue but I honestly felt at the tie my mother waited too long.

Our little doggie Sarah passed on her own in the middle of the night. My grandson at the time who was the same age asked how could we put her to sleep. He said he would never forgive us but she passed between 4 and 6 in the morning. I heard her cry out at 4 and at 6 she was loosing body heat and was getting stiff. We put her in the back yard and panted a flower garden around her in her memory. I also put a bird feeder out there because she use to love looking out the window at the birds and other animals. I would say take her now your child may not get too up set.

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C.B.

answers from Evansville on

We have a 14 y.o. black lab/chow mix aprox 85 lbs. He is slow and sleeps alot. We came home about a year or two ago and he was sitting in the yard and could not get up. I thouht we were going to have to put him down, but I gave him aome pain/arthritis med that we got from the vet and encouraged him to get up. In about 15-30 min he was able to get up and get up the 2 steps into the house. I still keep that med on hand, but we've been giving him 2 glucosomine - congroitin(sp?) pills in a spoonful of peanut butter on a dog biscuit. He is much better. He seems happy most of the time, but as I said he does sleep a lot and is quite slow. He occasionally chases a squirrel, but it is sad (and funny) because he doesn't have a chance of catching it in his slow trot. I figure that as long as he is able to get in and out of the house and as long as he isn't too miserable, I'll keep him around; he's part of the family. If he no longer seems happy to be living, I'll seriously consider having him put to sleep. He is also neaarly deaf, but we live out in the country at the end of a dead end road. He was diagnosed with heart worms about 5-6 yr ago, but shows no signs of the disease (coughing, etc.) We have been told he is a walking time bomb. Sometimes when he is sleeping very soundly, I check to see if he is still breathing. I understand your question. I've asked it myself a few times. I hope my rambling thoughts and experience help you in some way. By the way, our only cat is 13 y o. The two cats we had previously lived to be 16 y.o. Good luck! You will miss your dog when it is gone, no matter how its life ends - which, unfortunately it will eventually. It will be a sad learning experience for your daughter about the life process when it happens.

Humane? You can't feel what he feels, but you can see in his eyes if he is suffering and if he is happy. Sometimes the two co-exist at the same time. I'm sure you've even felt that pain and happiness to be alive in a situation.

Our dog used to be able to make it through the night without neeeding to go out, but now he must go out most nights. He has urinated a couple times in the hall when we did not wake up to him coming into our room. Perhaps, getting your dog out more often will help with the bowel control issues.

Before you make a decision, try the glucosomine. You can get in the vitamin section at Walmart, etc. It is fairly inexpensive, especially compared to a vet's Rx and it has worked quite well for our dog.

God bless you and may He comfort you when your dog is no longer living in your home. He will always live in your heart though. Best wishes.

Carol

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