When your dog reaches old age, it can be hard to come to terms with having to put them down. But when their quality of life begins to decline, and they no longer respond to treatment or medication, the most compassionate decision you can make is to consult with your vet about putting an end to their suffering.

Once you’ve made the decision, you can focus on making the most of the time you have left with your pup. At Eterneva, we know dealing with end-of-life determinations for your pet can be overwhelming, so we’ve put together a useful guide with tips to help you make informed decisions, prepare for the process of euthanasia, and create a plan to give your senior dog the best last day(s) possible.

Senior golden retriever sleeps on floor

When to consider putting your dog down

If you’re like most dog owners, your pet is a cherished friend, a faithful companion, and an integral part of your family. When they get old and their quality of life begins to diminish, it’s not easy to come to terms with putting your dog down. Making the decision to euthanize your dog can be one of the toughest ones you ever have to make, but it is an inherent and essential responsibility that comes with being a conscientious pet parent.

While it can often involve mixed feelings of sadness and guilt, if your pet is suffering, euthanizing them is the most compassionate, kind, and unselfish thing you can do. It can be difficult to know if you are making the right decision, so it’s important to talk to your vet and discuss your available treatment options. However, as your dog ages and begins to reach the end of their life, there are a few signs that can let you know when it may be time to consider putting your pet to sleep:

  • Your dog can no longer eat or drink (or doesn’t want to)
  • Your dog has trouble standing or moving around
  • Your dog no longer shows interest in activities or toys they once loved
  • Your dog is in visible pain, has difficulty breathing, or has frequent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Your dog experiences significant weight loss
  • Your dog no longer responds to medication or procedures meant to relieve certain ailments

If you recognize any of these signs, it’s time to take your pup to the vet to discuss what you should do. Another way to diagnose your pet’s quality of life is to use the HHHHHMM Scale, a rating system created by veterinarian Dr. Alice Villalobos that measures Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and “More good days than bad days.” The HHHHHMM Scale provides a way for pet owners and veterinarians to make impartial judgments about the health and happiness of an animal to determine whether euthanasia is the most compassionate option available. 

Giving your beloved dog the best last day(s)

Once you’ve consulted with your vet and made the decision to put your dog to sleep, it’s time to think about how to give your dog the best last day(s) possible. Creating a plan to make the most of the time you have left with your pet is a great way to show appreciation for their companionship and let them know how special they are to you. It will also help you focus on the joy and affection you and your dog have shared over the years and reflect on how that relationship has enriched both of your lives.

Blond girl and golden retriever sit together at a scenic overlook

Every dog is unique, and how you choose to spend your final few days together will depend on their preferences, temperament, favorites, and abilities. Create a bucket list for your pet that includes everything you want to do together before you say goodbye. These may include things like:

  • Visiting their favorite place together one last time
  • Spoiling them with their favorite foods and treats (just consult with your vet to ensure it doesn’t upset their stomach)
  • Showering them with their favorite toys or doing some of their favorite activities
  • Taking lots of photos of them and with them
  • Making them as comfortable as possible with extra blankets, pillows, pads, and doggie beds
  • Spending time cuddling or sitting together in their favorite spot in the house

Whatever you decide to do, having a plan for your pup’s final days will help you maximize the time you have together, build lasting memories, and celebrate the bond between you and your dog before saying goodbye. 

Euthanasia: preparation, process, and cost

One of the best ways to handle the process of euthanasia is to make sure you are prepared, logistically, mentally, and emotionally. Talk with your vet ahead of time to discuss the process of euthanasia and your burial and cremation options. They can walk you through the procedure and make arrangements, so you know what to expect. If you have children or younger family members, talk to them about the process so they can understand what’s happening and why. It’s also crucial to arrange an emotional support system for yourself ahead of time. Surround yourself with family and friends during the grieving process or reach out to various pet-loss resources, hotlines, and support groups to help during this difficult time. 

A man hugs his golden retriever

It also helps to be prepared for the financial side of things. Talk to your vet about the costs associated with euthanasia services, cremation, and burial, so you don’t get surprised by unexpected expenses or additional fees. There are a number of alternatives available, and you should choose what makes sense for your situation. Here are some of the most common end-of-life options for your senior dog and their average associated costs:

  • Euthanasia at a veterinarian’s office. You can schedule a time with your vet to take your dog into the office for euthanasia. The vet will administer a sedative to relax your pet, and you can be right there with them in their last moments as they go to sleep and the drugs take effect. Average cost: $50–150
  • In-home euthanasia. Some pet owners may choose to have the euthanasia procedure done at home, so their dog can be surrounded by familiar sights and smells in their last moments. Average cost: $150–300  
  • Cremation. There are options for communal cremation, partitioned cremation, and private cremation, as well as various methods for receiving and storing the ashes in an urn. Average cost: $150–300
  • Burial. You may decide to bury your pet. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a local pet cemetery, or you may choose to bury your dog on your property. Many municipalities have laws governing the home burial process, so be sure to check with your city or county before burying your pet’s remains at home. Average cost for pet cemetery burial: $200–1,500 (including casket, burial plot, and headstone).

What you decide to do with your pet after euthanasia is highly personal. However, it is usually recommended to make decisions before the euthanasia process, if possible, as emotions will be running high on the day, and it can be hard to make sound logistical choices in that state of mind. Your vet, the Humane Society, or a local animal shelter will have resources that can help you make the right decisions for you. 

A final goodbye to your pet

Although it can be difficult to say goodbye to your good boy or sweet girl, it’s important to focus on and be thankful for the time you were able to spend together. The memories you’ve made with your furry companion will stay with you for a lifetime, and cherishing those memories and honoring the life of your pet is the best way to process the emotional experience of bidding them farewell.

Honoring your pet’s life

There are a variety of ways to honor the memory of your beloved pet and keep them with you in spirit. You can plant a memorial tree, get a portrait of your dog tattooed on your body, or preserve their paw prints in ink or salt dough. Your relationship with your dog is special, and how you choose to recognize and remember it should reflect that. 

A golden retriever plays in a field swathed in warm, golden light

At Eterneva, we offer another way to honor your pup. Your dog may have been with you through self-discoveries, career changes, achievements, and heartbreaks. It seems only fitting to bring them with you on your journey forward. Eterneva can take a small amount of your pet’s fur or cremated ashes and create a stunning diamond that reflects the special bond you have with your canine buddy. This will allow you to keep your pet close as a constant reminder of the time you shared together and a beautiful representation of the joy that your dog brought to your life. For inspiration, read our story about Natalie and her beloved dog, Princeton, who became her yellow diamond.

Making the compassionate choice to put your dog down is difficult, but choosing how to pay tribute to their memory and celebrate their life can be a source of joy, nostalgia, and remembrance. To find out more, contact Eterneva today.