Do Dogs Feel Betrayed When You Put Them Down?

The Emotional Bond Between Dogs and Owners

Dogs form strong attachments and bonds with their owners that are similar to human relationships (Explained: How dogs emotionally attach to their owners). This is because dogs have complex emotions and cognitive abilities that allow them to develop meaningful connections. Studies show that like humans, dogs experience feelings such as joy, fear, anxiety and more (Dog–Owner Relationship, Owner Interpretations and Dog Welfare – PubMed).

A dog’s owner becomes the center of its world and primary source of security. The loss of an owner can cause intense grief and behavioral changes in dogs. However, the strength of the dog-owner bond also brings great emotional fulfillment to both. Understanding the depth of a dog’s attachment can help owners make compassionate decisions about their pet’s care.

Understanding a Dog’s Cognitive Abilities

Dogs have been shown to possess many cognitive abilities, including memory, emotions, and personality. Research from centers like the Duke Canine Cognition Center demonstrates that dogs have excellent short-term and long-term memory capabilities. They can remember specific people, places, words, and experiences over time. Dogs also experience basic emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, and anxiety. Their personalities can range from playful and excitable to calm and aloof.

However, dogs lack more advanced reasoning skills and abstract thinking. They live in the present moment and do not ponder existential concepts. Dogs cannot imagine hypothetical scenarios or analyze complex situations in the same way humans can. Their cognitive abilities are more instinctual than rational. So while dogs have memory and emotions, they do not possess higher-order thinking skills like people. They rely on their owners to provide structure, guidance, and planning.

The Experience of Being Put Down

The actual process of euthanasia is designed to be gentle and painless for dogs. Veterinarians use an overdose of an anesthetic drug, usually sodium pentobarbital, to quickly induce deep sedation and unconsciousness in the dog (1). Within seconds of the injection, the dog will become completely unresponsive and unaware of its surroundings. As the drug takes full effect, it will progressively slow and then stop the dog’s breathing and cardiac function, resulting in death while the dog is in a deep sleep-like state.

Veterinary professionals are experts at administering euthanasia drugs in appropriate dosages based on the dog’s size and health condition. The aim is for the dog to smoothly transition into a deep coma before respiratory and cardiac arrest occurs. At no point should the dog experience pain, suffering, or awareness of what is happening. While the process can be emotionally difficult for owners, it is peaceful for the dog.

Some potential signs that the euthanasia drugs have taken full effect include loss of muscle tone, fixed and dilated pupils, lack of jaw reflexes, and cessation of heartbeat confirmed by a stethoscope. Veterinarians will confirm the dog’s passing before allowing the owners to spend some final moments with their beloved companion.


Signs a Dog May Sense Impending Euthanasia

Some dog owners notice behavioral changes in their dogs leading up to euthanasia that suggest the dog may have a sense of what is about to happen. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs are very sensitive and attuned to their owner’s emotions and changes in routine 1. While we cannot know for certain if a dog understands the concept of its own mortality, there are some common signs a dog may be aware a trip to the vet for euthanasia is approaching:

Increased clinginess to owner – Dogs may become more attached to their owners as euthanasia nears, wanting to be closer and seeking more affection.

Anxiety and restlessness – Some dogs may pace, seem unable to get comfortable, and have difficulty settling down in the time leading up to euthanasia.

Changes in appetite – A dog’s appetite may decrease, or they may stop eating their regular food as euthanasia approaches.

Withdrawal – Increasingly lethargic behavior and withdrawal from normal activities, play, or interactions can signal a dog may sense something is imminent.

While we can never fully know a dog’s inner experience, these signs suggest dogs may have an innate ability to comprehend when major events are approaching. Close observation of a dog’s behavior can provide insight into their state of mind and awareness.

Impact of Owner’s Emotions on Dog

Dogs are highly attuned to human emotions and can pick up on subtle cues from their owners’ body language, vocal tones, and facial expressions. Studies show dogs may recognize human emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger. Because of this emotional sensitivity, a dog likely senses when their owner is grieving or distressed over an impending euthanasia decision.

Some experts suggest a dog owner’s grief response prior to euthanasia could potentially cause undue stress for the dog. As pack animals, dogs are responsive to the moods of their human family. If an owner is highly anxious or depressed about euthanizing their pet, the dog may in turn become confused, clingy, or stressed. However, dogs also look to their owners for reassurance and stability. So remaining calm and providing comfort to the dog during this time is important.

Veterinarians advise preparing your dog through maintaining normal routines, spending quality time together, and remaining patient if behavioral issues emerge. Staying emotionally balanced helps ease anxiety for both owner and dog during the dog’s final days. Focusing on making positive memories can provide some comfort to owners afterwards when grieving the loss of their beloved pet.

For more on the emotional abilities of dogs see this scientific review:

Aftercare for Grieving Owners

Guilt, doubt, and sadness after euthanizing a pet are normal reactions. Many owners experience intense grief and may even question if they made the right decision. While euthanasia is often the most humane option, it can still feel like a betrayal to your loyal companion.

Seeking grief counseling or joining a pet loss support group can provide comfort and reassurance during the mourning process. Connecting with others who have been through similar losses validates the pain you are experiencing. You can share memories, regrets, and ways to honor your pet’s life.

Cherishing your happy memories with your dog is an important part of the healing journey. Reflect on the special bond you shared and take time to truly grieve. While the pain may always linger, support and self-care can help you accept the loss in time.

Making the Decision Compassionately

When facing the difficult decision of euthanizing a beloved dog, it’s important to keep the animal’s quality of life and any suffering at the forefront. Although painful, euthanasia can be an act of mercy when a dog’s health is declining or they are in constant pain. According to the AVMA, the decision for euthanasia is one that pet owners should come to after “much soul searching, discussion with family, and consultation with the veterinarian” (Euthanasia).

Some questions to consider when weighing euthanasia include: Is your dog still able to enjoy favorite activities? Are they struggling with basics like eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom? Is pain medication providing relief or just masking a poor quality of life? Monitoring your dog’s daily behaviors and mood can help assess when their quality of life is diminishing. Start by discussing options openly with your veterinarian – they can provide guidance on prognosis, treatment, quality of life measures, and give their professional opinion on the right time for euthanasia.

Making this decision with family members, close friends, and your vet can help provide extra insight and support. While certainly heartbreaking, focusing on your dog’s comfort and a peaceful passing can help frame euthanasia as final act of love and compassion for your beloved pet.

Preparing for Euthanasia

The days and weeks leading up to your dog’s euthanasia can be emotionally difficult, but taking some time to prepare can help provide closure and peace for both you and your pet. Here are some tips for thoughtfully getting ready for this hard goodbye:

Give your dog their favorite foods and treats, within reason. Let them enjoy some of the delicious foods they don’t normally get to eat. You want your dog’s last days to be filled with joy and comfort.

Spend extra quality time together through activities your dog loves, like going for a walk, playing fetch, or getting a nice belly rub. Show your beloved companion as much affection as you can so they feel your love. According to Paws Into Grace, letting your pet know they are cherished will reassure them as the procedure nears.

Have family present during the final days if possible, so your dog feels the support and comfort of their whole human pack. Your pup will appreciate having their loved ones close as they prepare for their final transition.

Decide if in-home or veterinary euthanasia will be less stressful for your dog. ToeGrips notes that being at home in a familiar environment may ease anxiety for some dogs. Discuss options with your vet to choose what will be calmest for your pet.

Making thoughtful preparations ahead of time can provide reassurance and tranquility for both you and your dog as you face this difficult decision with compassion.

Alternatives to Euthanasia

Euthanasia is often seen as the most humane option when a dog is suffering and has a poor prognosis. However, for some owners, the thought of ending their beloved dog’s life prematurely is incredibly difficult. In cases where a dog’s condition is treatable or manageable, there are alternatives that allow owners to maximize their pet’s quality of life for as long as possible.

One such option is palliative and hospice care. This involves using medications and therapy to keep the dog comfortable, manage pain, and alleviate any symptoms causing distress. The goal is not to cure the underlying condition but rather to enhance quality of life for the remainder of it. Services may include pain medications, dietary supplements, mobility assistance, wound care, and in-home nursing visits (source).

Physical therapy is another option that can help dogs retain or regain mobility and live more comfortably. Exercises, massage, stretching, hydrotherapy, and assistive devices like carts or harnesses may improve a dog’s functioning and allow them to remain active longer.

While alternatives don’t change the eventual outcome, they allow owners the chance to delay euthanasia and spend more quality time with their pet. It’s an option worth exploring for those not yet ready to let go.

Honoring Your Dog’s Memory

There are many touching ways for owners to honor and cherish the memory of their beloved dog after losing them. Holding a memorial service, burial, or cremation can provide closure. You can invite friends and family to share stories and say goodbye one last time. Many vets and pet cemeteries offer memorial services.

You could bury your pet at home if allowed by local regulations, or have them privately cremated to keep their ashes. Special urns and memorial stones are available to display in your home or yard. Marking their grave with a special tombstone or planting a tree there can also create a living memorial. For more ideas, see this article on 7 Ways to Honor Your Pet’s Memory.

Making a donation or volunteering time to an animal shelter or rescue organization can help other pets in need, which can provide comfort and meaning. Setting up an annual fundraiser on your pet’s birthday can keep their memory alive while benefiting animals.

Finally, continue to cherish your memories by displaying their photos, creating a memory book or collection of their favorite things, items, and toys. Share stories and pictures with others who knew them to keep their spirit alive. While the grief never fully goes away, these thoughtful memorials can provide comfort while allowing you to forever honor their place in your heart.

Scroll to Top