July 12th, 2008

When is it the right time to say goodbye/consider euthanasia? Deciding to euthanase your adored dog is one of the hardest decisions in the world, and one that needs to be made with the right advice at hand. Dogs Life hopes this article will offer help during those hard times.

Knowing when its time to say goodbye to a trusted family pet can be a gut-wrenching experience. Dogs Life caught up with Dr Angus Ross from the Ku-Ring-Gai Veterinary Hospital in New South Wales to get some advice on Euthanasia and our pets. On a personal note, it was Dr Ross who gave my family and I advice on our beloved 13-year-old Dobermann Trajan, who, we sadly said goodbye to a few months ago, after Trajan succumbed to the pain of cancer. His advice, alongside his team of wonderful vet nurses, was invaluable at this very emotional time.

“Euthanasia is one of the most difficult issues that pet owners face in their life,” Dr Ross tells Dogs Life. “People often say that losing a loved pet is as emotionally hard as losing a member of family, and in fact pets are just that.”

For Trajan, we decided his quality of life was no longer at its peak, and we could not sleep easy knowing the amount of pain he was going to endure. Dr Ross and his great team had done all they could to keep the pain at bay, however, realistically this could no longer be managed. So we decided to say our final goodbyes to our beloved Dobermann, known as our black stallion.

The right time

There is no real right or wrong time to say goodbye to your beloved dog. Like most, Trajan was a huge part of our family and saying goodbye took some preparation and planning. Realistically, we knew he wouldn’t be around forever and as he edged ever so gracefully into old age, we began preparing ourselves both mentally and emotionally for the day when we would have to say goodbye.

“My advice is that any such decision should be based on the pets welfare and quality of life,” Dr Ross advises. “The criteria involved in making a decision are purely subjective and will vary between people. In deciding what is the best course of action I normally consider the current problems facing the pet is it in pain, is the condition going to get worse and at what rate, is the pet eating, drinking and going to the toilet without soiling itself?

Understandably, your decision will depend on many factors. Saying goodbye is not easy. There will be lots of tears, some doubts and a deep sense of loss, but these are all natural steps when preparing for grief. As our dogs become more and more accepted in our homes as family members, grief becomes more and more apparen’t in our loss. Therefore, making sure you get the right support and advice is essential in these times of great sadness. Holding off on making the decision could cause you and your pet more pain. Being reasonable and realistic in the possible decisions you will need to make, especially in times of chronic illness or old age, will help prepare you and your family for the hard outcome at hand.

“Where a pet has a condition where no treatment is viable or desired, I would normally advise that euthanasia is far better done earlier than later,” Dr Ross suggests. “I made the mistake a couple of years ago of holding on to my German Shepherd who was dying of splenic and kidney cancer for a day longer than was appropriate. I did it because I couldnt emotionally let go, but I now realise and advise people that while it hurts you, no matter when you do it, the animal can suffer if you do it too late.”

An important piece of advice is to talk it over. Speak with your vet and get the whole realistic rundown of your pets condition. Chat with friends; you’ll be surprised how many of them have also gone through this. Talk it over with your family, even chatting about where you would like to bury the dog or if you would like to make a plaque in its memory. All these attributes will prepare you emotionally for the loss of your pet. The only way I was able to make such a hard decision was to talk it over and make sure we found a way to never forget our black stallion. We also knew the time would soon arrive, so we spoilt the pants off him our way of saying thank you for so many wonderful years of companionship. Now we can look back and smile when we think of our beloved boy as the pain of his loss is finally fading, allowing all those funny memories to resurface.

“Where euthanasia is planned, I normally say to people that it is time to forget the dog diets and get out the sirloin steak and snacks or whatever it is that they want and give them a good send off,” Dr Ross says with a smile. “That’s how I would like it for me.”


If your pet is suffering from a chronic terminal illness, chat with your vet about how much time the animal has left and, more importantly, if your pet is in pain. With age, its always a tough one. Some dogs will live as happy as Larry until 15 or more years … others will begin to deplete with age rapidly. I remember always thinking of Trajan as a puppy until one day he just went grey and wasn’t able to move with much ease. His old age crept up on all of us very quickly.

“I don’t think there is any real way to make it easier but often a bit of forward planning or the setting of time reference points makes it less confusing,” says Dr Ross. “I will advise people who have a pet with a terminal problem, depending what it is, to make periodic assessments of their pets.” He also recommends that his patients keep in close contact with the vet hospital so he can get a feel for when the time is approaching if the owners are not sure themselves. “At the same time, for patients who are critical and people who are having a hard time making a decision, I will advise them to set a concrete time to undertake the procedure, such as 5pm Tuesday.”

For vets this is also a hard time, as many would have known the dog for a long time and will also see the change in quality of life.

“When patients are suffering, its nice to be able to help them,” Dr Ross says. “However, euthanasia for patients who have had involved care, which means the vet has got to know them really well, and younger pets being euthanased for trauma reasons can be really hard. It often brings back my own memories of my past pets, and a few tears.”

Many people will suffer great loss once this decision has been made, some more than others. While I have many great memories of Trajan, I find making special picture frames with all my lost pets helps. Putting up new pictures of Trajan that make me smile helped with the grieving process, as too did long walks in the rain with Jazmine! For Trajan it was the right time to go to that huge oval in the sky. The veterinary support was excellent, and I would advise anyone to speak with their vet when making this choice. They are always willing to lend an ear and even a shoulder to cry on!

“There is a range of support available,” Dr Ross says. “At the practice level, we unfortunately see grief on a regular basis. While vets and nurses aren’t trained counsellors, they are very experienced and, being pet owners, have often been through it themselves and can offer their experience and support. On a professional level, there are a few trained counsellors who provide grief counselling. There is a lovely veterinarian named Dr David Foote, (02) 9340 4890, who is also a trained counsellor. People react in all ways and I consider the use of professional counselling to be a necessary and very helpful service in some cases.”

Another dog?

Having said goodbye to your beloved dog, is the pain and loss making you apprehensive about getting another dog? Dogs Life hears this often through letters from readers, however remember that the years of love and loyalty from your pet will, in time, far outweigh your pain. It may not feel that way now, but in time you will look back and realise you made the right decision and your dog will thank you for ending his life in a peaceful manner. Your new dog will never replace your lost dog, however it will provide you with that unconditional love, hysterical laughter and loyalty we all adore about our dogs.

If you have lost your dog to a generic or hereditary problem, doing your research on the breed and breeder will ultimately protect your chances of going through the same ordeal. With so many great doggy souls looking for new homes, getting back on the horse sooner or later will not only allow you to enjoy the company of a dog again, it will also help a dog out who needs a loving owner like you.

Thanks to ALL vets!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the wonderful vets around the world for helping so many pet owners with this unbearable decision. Your words of wisdom have helped many remember their pets with joy instead of pain. Your professionalism in times like this is purely outstanding.

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