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How Do You Know When to Put a Dog Down?

I had the best dog. She saw me through veterinary school, marriage, and the birth of my first child. We grew up together. But by the time she was 14 years old, Veena was suffering from painful arthritis in her hips and back, along with gastrointestinal problems, and was having difficulty seeing. As a veterinarian, I knew that there were many options for her, including hospice and palliative care, but as a pet parent, I could only see the difficult, heart-wrenching decision in front of me.

Like many of my clients, I wished that when things got too hard for her, my dog would pass away painlessly in her sleep. I wanted to be spared the heartache of having to make that choice for her. Unfortunately, nature seldom provides this luxury, so it’s up to us to do this for our pets.

When Veena suddenly got much sicker and was in constant pain, I had to make the very personal decision of what was right for my pet. I had to humanely end her suffering by putting her down.

This type of decision is difficult, and you should talk with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for you and your pet. To help you prepare for when that time comes, here’s what you need to know about putting a pet down.

When Is It Time to Put a Dog Down?

Q: How do you know when it’s the right time to say goodbye to your dog?

A: When your dog is suffering, euthanasia can be a gift. It may be very difficult to think of it this way, but it is the kindest thing you can do for your pet. Have an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian about your dog’s health and quality of life. They are uniquely qualified to offer some objective guidance based on their knowledge of your pet’s condition.

Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Veterinarian:

  1. Does my dog have a good quality of life? Are they eating and drinking? Are they able to urinate/defecate? Do they enjoy human interaction?

  2. Does my dog have more good days than bad?

  3. Is it possible for my dog to recover with a treatment plan that I can commit to both financially and personally?

Your veterinarian may be able to provide you with medications, treatment options, and changes that you can make at home that may help improve your dog's quality of life. However, if there are no additional medical or home interventions that will cause enough improvement to bring your dog back to an acceptable level of comfort, it may be time to talk about euthanasia with your veterinarian.

Real-World Situation

Consider Bella, a 12-year-old Labrador Retriever. Bella had been suffering from arthritis for years, but her condition suddenly worsened. She stopped eating, struggled to walk, and no longer enjoyed playing with her family. After discussing Bella’s condition with their veterinarian and considering Bella’s declining quality of life, her owners made the difficult decision to euthanize her to prevent further suffering.

Dog Quality of Life Scale

To make the process easier on pet parents and to provide a clear structure for evaluating your dog’s current life experience, veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos created a Quality of Life scale, also known as the HHHHHMM or H5M2 scale. This scale includes several categories that you can use to assess your pet’s quality of life. Each section is to be given points on a 0 to 10 scale, with 10 being ideal. If the total is less than 35, it may mean that your dog’s quality of life is suffering.

The HHHHHMM Scale:

  1. Hurt: Assesses whether a pet's overall pain is well-controlled and their ability to breathe easily without distress.

  2. Hunger: Evaluates if your pet can safely and comfortably take in adequate nutrition to maintain their body condition.

  3. Hydration: Determines if your dog can take in enough water on their own or with help from subcutaneous fluids to maintain their hydration.

  4. Hygiene: Considers if your dog can be kept clean without getting sores from lying in one place too long.

  5. Happiness: Looks at whether your dog is engaging with people and toys they have enjoyed in the past or if they seem withdrawn, sad, less social, or depressed.

  6. Mobility: Assesses if your dog can get up and move about freely on their own or if they are at risk of stumbling or harming themselves when walking.

  7. More good days than bad: Keeps track of whether your dog has more overall good days than bad, which can be monitored using a calendar or diary.

Real-World Situation

Max, an elderly Beagle, was showing signs of severe arthritis and had difficulty moving around. His owner used the HHHHHMM scale and found that Max scored below 35. After discussing Max’s quality of life with their veterinarian, they decided that euthanasia was the most humane option.

Who Provides Dog Euthanasia Services?

Q: Who can provide euthanasia services for my dog?

A: Veterinarians are the only providers of euthanasia services. Your veterinarian will help you to finalize any decisions that are left to be made and will walk you through the process to make this time as peaceful as possible for you and your dog.

You can elect in-home pet euthanasia services, or you may bring your pet to the vet’s office. Alternatively, your local ASPCA or Humane Society may offer low-cost euthanasia options. The cost of euthanasia varies widely depending on the size of your pet, your location, the services provided (including aftercare), and where the procedure is performed.

Real-World Situation

Rex, a senior German Shepherd, was euthanized at home with the help of a mobile vet service. This allowed Rex to be surrounded by his family in a familiar environment, making the process more comforting for everyone involved.

Deciding What’s Right for Your Dog

Q: How do I decide what’s right for my dog?

A: With the integration of hospice care into veterinary medicine, we now have dedicated ways to provide supportive care geared toward maintaining a dog's quality of life above all else. Hospice care focuses on maintaining a dog's comfort and quality of life when they are approaching the end of their life, but it also provides emotional support for their human caregivers. Palliative care is very similar to hospice care, but with palliative care, direct medical care is still given to address your dog's medical condition.

Real-World Situation

Bella’s owners opted for hospice care when her condition started to decline. They worked with their veterinarian to manage Bella’s pain and keep her comfortable at home. When Bella’s quality of life no longer met the acceptable threshold, they made the decision to euthanize her peacefully at home.

Preparing for Euthanasia

Q: How can I prepare for euthanasia?

A: Preparing for euthanasia involves making a plan to ensure your dog has a peaceful passing. Consider how you would like to spend the last moments with your pet and how you wish to memorialize them afterward. Discuss your options with your veterinarian, who can provide guidance and support.

Real-World Situation

Max’s family spent his last day together doing all of his favorite activities, including a gentle walk in the park and a final meal of his favorite treats. They chose to have Max euthanized at home and arranged for his cremation afterward, keeping his ashes in a special urn.


Deciding when to put a dog down is one of the most difficult decisions a pet parent can make. By assessing your dog’s quality of life, discussing options with your veterinarian, and preparing for the process, you can ensure that your pet’s final moments are peaceful and filled with love. Remember, your veterinarian is there to help guide you through this challenging time and provide the support you need to make the best decision for your beloved companion.

How Do You Know When to Put a Dog Down?
How Do You Know When to Put a Dog Down?


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