Will A Vet Put An Old Dog To Sleep?

Euthanasia, or the act of ending a life to prevent further suffering, can be an extremely difficult and emotional decision for pet owners to make. When a beloved dog reaches old age and experiences declining health or quality of life, owners may consult with their veterinarian about whether euthanasia is recommended. This article aims to provide information on the factors vets consider when assessing a dog’s quality of life and whether euthanasia may help prevent further unnecessary suffering.

Quality of Life Factors

There are several factors that can help determine an old dog’s quality of life when considering euthanasia. Some key factors veterinarians and pet owners look at include:


Chronic pain, whether from arthritis, cancer or other conditions, can significantly diminish a dog’s quality of life. Mobility issues and discomfort often go hand in hand for older dogs. According to the VCA Hospitals, assessing pain levels is an important part of evaluating quality of life.

Mobility Issues

Problems walking, standing up, climbing stairs and getting around can frustrate dogs and diminish their joy. Per the Quality of Life Scale for Pets, mobility issues that prevent a dog from comfortably accessing food, water, walks or play can significantly impact their wellbeing.


Loss of bladder control is common in older dogs. Frequent accidents and the inability to make it outside can cause distress, skin infections, and affect the human-animal bond. According to the Small Door Veterinary, urinary incontinence often diminishes a dog’s dignity and quality of life.

Appetite Changes

A disinterest in food and weight loss are common signs a dog is declining. However, increased thirst and urination often persist despite appetite loss. The combination of inappetence along with uncontrolled drinking and urinating can quickly lead to dehydration and exacerbate other health issues.

Common Age-Related Conditions

As dogs reach their senior years, there are some common health conditions that may emerge. Being aware of these can help owners monitor their dog’s health and quality of life.

One of the most prevalent is arthritis, which causes pain and stiffness in the joints. According to the AKC, arthritis impacts over 60% of senior dogs and can significantly impact their mobility and comfort (https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/caring-for-older-dog/). Special joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and providing soft bedding can help manage arthritis in older dogs.

Cancer is another common age-related condition in senior dogs. Some of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in older dogs are lymphoma, mast cell tumors, melanoma, and mammary gland tumors. Early detection through regular veterinary exams is key, as cancer survival rates are much higher when treated early (https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/healthcare/common-senior-dog-health-problems).

Kidney disease impacts around 1 in 3 dogs as they age. Gradual loss of kidney function can lead to waste buildup in the bloodstream. Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, poor coat, vomiting, and bad breath. Medical management and dietary changes can help support kidney health (https://www.smalldoorvet.com/learning-center/seniors/health-issues-senior-dogs/).

Lastly, cognitive dysfunction is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. It causes disorientation, changes in sleep patterns, anxiety, and loss of housetraining. Keeping your dog mentally stimulated with games and exercises can help maintain cognitive health in aging dogs.

Assessing Quality of Life

When determining if a dog’s quality of life is declining, the assessment involves both a veterinary exam to diagnose any medical conditions as well as input from the owner about changes and symptoms they are noticing.

According to the Quality of Life Scale by the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, the veterinarian will perform a full physical exam and diagnostic tests to identify any diseases or age-related problems the dog may have. This provides an objective assessment of the dog’s health status. The veterinarian will look for signs like mobility problems, urinary incontinence, hearing loss, or cognitive dysfunction that could be impacting quality of life.

The owner plays a critical role by providing subjective information about any changes in the dog’s behavior, appetite, social interactions, hygiene, and happiness. The owner sees the day-to-day life of the dog and can report on symptoms like loss of interest in walks or play, reduced water consumption, isolation from the family, or accidents around the house. Together, the objective veterinary exam and subjective owner input help determine areas where the dog’s quality of life is declining.

According to the Quality of Life Scale established by the Veterinary Centers of America Hospitals, “The quality-of-life scale provides guidelines that help owners and veterinarians work together to maintain a healthy human-animal bond.”

When Euthanasia May Be Recommended

There are certain circumstances when a veterinarian may recommend euthanasia for an elderly dog. This difficult decision is made when the dog’s quality of life has declined to a point where prolonging life would be inhumane. Reasons a vet may suggest euthanasia include:

Severe Unmanaged Pain – Dogs are remarkably stoic animals and have a high pain threshold. However, uncontrolled chronic pain that cannot be managed with medication negatively impacts quality of life. If pain gets to the point where it is persistent and treatments are ineffective, euthanasia may be the kindest option.

Inability to Move/Eat Normally – Dogs who lose mobility or the ability to eat/drink often suffer a great deal. An old dog who can no longer walk, stand, or feed itself has very poor quality of life. These conditions typically worsen over time. Euthanasia may be recommended if assisting the dog with basic functions is no longer possible or practical.

Advanced Disease – Euthanasia may be suggested when a dog has late-stage cancer, organ failure, or another serious irreversible condition. Trying to prolong life could extend the dog’s discomfort. Vets may recommend euthanasia to prevent further suffering when the prognosis is grave.

Veterinarians do not take euthanasia lightly. However, they have an ethical responsibility to prevent needless suffering. While the decision is difficult, euthanasia may be the final act of love an owner can provide when quality of life diminishes. Owners should thoughtfully consider their vet’s guidance during this painful time.

Owner Decision

The decision to euthanize a pet is difficult for many owners. Some factors that may influence an owner’s decision include the pet’s quality of life, pain levels, prognosis and life expectancy. Ultimately, euthanasia is an elective procedure and the owner gets to decide when the timing is right for their pet.

According to the AVMA, “When your pet’s quality of life declines, you may need to consult with your veterinarian about whether euthanasia is the right choice. Setting limits for what’s acceptable and unacceptable in terms of your pet’s health and daily living is a very personal decision.” 1 Owners should consider factors like their pet’s ability to eat, drink, walk or eliminate on their own when evaluating quality of life.

Some signs that a pet’s quality of life is declining include:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Difficulty breathing or signs of respiratory distress
  • Immobility or inability to get around on their own
  • Loss of appetite or extreme weight loss
  • Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
  • Signs of constant pain or discomfort

While veterinarians can provide guidance, owners must decide when it is time to say goodbye to a beloved pet. This very personal decision requires owners to balance their desire to extend their pet’s life with evaluating if their pet still has more good days than bad. Seeking support from family, friends and veterinary professionals can help owners navigate this difficult choice.

Saying Goodbye

When it comes time to say goodbye to your beloved pet, you have a few options for where and how it can be done. Many pet owners choose to have their pet euthanized at the veterinary clinic. This allows your pet to be in a familiar environment and the veterinarian can handle the process professionally and compassionately. However, some prefer in-home euthanasia so your pet can pass away at home surrounded by family in a favorite spot. There are veterinarians and services that will come to your home to perform euthanasia when the time comes.

After your pet has passed, you’ll need to decide on burial or cremation. Some veterinary clinics have cremation services or can refer you to a pet crematorium. There are also pet cemeteries and services that can handle burial arrangements if you prefer your pet to be laid to rest. Cremated remains can be kept in an urn or scattered in a loved location. Many find comfort in having a physical reminder of their pet.

Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is so difficult. Don’t be afraid to lean on your support system or seek professional grief counseling during this time. Pet loss support hotlines and services can provide guidance for coping with feelings of grief and loss. It may help to join pet bereavement support groups in-person or online to connect with others going through the same experience. While the grief process takes time, reaching out for support can help provide comfort as you mourn the loss of your dear friend.

Coping With Loss

The loss of a beloved pet is incredibly difficult and can cause immense grief. It’s important to remember that grief is a normal reaction to losing someone you care about and love. Don’t feel ashamed of your sadness or try to hide it. Allow yourself to fully experience your emotions, and take time to mourn (source 1).

While the pain may seem unbearable at first, know that it will get better with time. Reflect on all the happy memories and special moments you shared with your pet. Looking back at photos and talking with others who knew your pet can help the healing process (source 2).

When you feel ready, consider adopting or rescuing a new pet. Don’t feel guilty about moving on – giving a loving home to a new animal in need can be therapeutic. Just make sure you’ve fully processed your grief before taking this step.


When considering euthanasia for an elderly dog, the key factor is assessing the animal’s quality of life. Veterinarians aim to prevent suffering and will thoughtfully guide owners through this difficult decision. There are many medical, behavioral, and emotional factors that influence when euthanasia may be recommended. Quality of life is paramount – if a dog is experiencing constant pain, distress, or loss of faculties, euthanasia may be the most humane option. However, euthanasia is never undertaken lightly, and vets will provide full guidance to grieving owners on how to make the best choice for their beloved pet.

Further Resources

There are many resources available to help pet owners cope with the grief and sadness of losing a beloved pet. Here are some recommended hotlines, articles, books, and support groups:

Pet loss hotlines:

Recommended books:

Online articles:

In-person and online support groups:

These resources provide grieving pet owners with helpful hotlines, articles, books, online forums, and in-person groups to help cope with the sadness and find support when working through pet loss.

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