How To Know When It’s Time To Say Goodbye

In the last few months, I’ve watched several close friends as they’ve had to make some heart-breaking decisions about their older dogs.

old dogWhen it comes an older dog who is a beloved family member, making the decision that it is time to say good-bye is one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make.

For me, I think the two main factors are 1) is my dog still comfortable—is there any sign of pain, fear or confusion and 2) does he still enjoy being here?

An older dog may be slower and have a hard time getting down the steps, but for an issue like this, adaptations can be made such as providing a ramp. Many physical problems of older pets can be managed without a euthanasia solution.

Older dogs may have incontinence (bladder and/or bowels) and this can be handled with more frequent trips outdoors, keeping the dog in a space with a floor that is easy to clean, or waterproof pads.

For some older dogs, particularly those that are larger, one problem that can signal the end is getting closer is the dog’s rear end fails—it has a hard time getting up when laying down, or the back legs may become unreliable.

Your veterinarian can always guide you from the medical standpoint. For the rest, you’ll have to decide what is in your heart. Many people say that the dog you love so much will let you know when it’s time.


About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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3 Responses to How To Know When It’s Time To Say Goodbye

  1. landsharkinnc says:

    This is the best piece I’ve every read – was on a Bernese Mt. Dog L-List years ++ ago –

    These are factors I considered long ago when I knew that at
    some point I would be making that decision. I did a lot of reading and
    spoke with folks who had been through it themselves. These are listed
    1) Decide in advance what defines a good quality of life for your dog.
    2) Don’t call the vet after one “bad” day. Instead look over a week
    and when the bad days outnumber the good, it may be time to help them
    3) Realize that often the dog is ready to let go before we are. Look
    for signs of withdrawal from you and others in the household.
    4) I read this and it made a big impression on me: A “natural” death
    is not always a compassionate one. When my Nellie was close to the
    end from osteosarcoma, I asked my vet what could happen before I
    intervened. I was taking time off from work so that she wouldn’t be
    alone as long as when I worked a full day. But I dreaded coming home
    & finding that she had died alone & in distress. He told me that she
    could develop a severe bleed in her liver and gradually lose
    consciousness; OR she could start bleeding from a mass in her lungs
    and that was a horrible way to go. So after a few bad days in a row,
    no tail wags, no appetite for pizza or oatmeal cookies, and seeing
    her opt to be outside by herself instead of with me, we made the
    final trip to the vet.
    5) This is an excerpt from a tribute Eugene O’Neill wrote to his
    Dalmatian, Carlotta; (written as her last will & testament)
    “It is time I said goodbye, before I become too sick a burden on
    myself and on those who love me. It will be sorrow to leave them, but
    not sorrow to die. Dogs do not fear death as men do. We accept it as
    part of life, not as something alien and terrible which destroys
    life. What may come after death, who knows? … But peace, at least
    is certain.”

    It’s never easy, no matter the circumstances nor how old the dog may
    be. It’s part of our responsibility when we decide to share our
    hearts with a being whose life-span is far too short.
    Lisa Seretto
    Littleton, MA

  2. Those are definitely things I took into consideration with my Toy Poodle Bandit the main one being is he in pain he was 21 years old. And had he lived 5 more days would have been 22 in our years. He did have some arthritis but I gave him medication for that otherwise he was just dying of old age. No incontinence, couldn’t see very well but had learned his way around the house when he could see. I do believe they will let you know. The day before he passed away he followed me everywhere and anytime I sat down was right there with me. Which was something he had not been doing for a while I think because of the arthritis. I would just go get him but that day he wanted to walk. And then the next day my heart and life was shattered I lost him. I think I knew it was near but just did not want to accept it. I had him since he was 6 weeks old. I just could NOT believe my baby had passed away. It is not something any of us want to accept. Nancy Timer

  3. Emma says:

    That’s the only bad part about being a dog owner – saying goodbye.

    I have a question unrelated to this particular post – if you earn the Community Canine title, the CGCA replaces the CGC title that was at the end of your dog’s title name before, correct? What happens if you then also earn the Urban title? Does the CGCU replace the CGCA? I thought that the CGCA was supposed to be the most advanced of the CGC family of titles, but then I don’t understand what happens then if you earn the CGCU. Clarification?

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