Dealing with old pets: When to let go and euthanize

Posts regularly make the rounds in personal finance blogs about the cost of pets. Pets are expensive. There’s no doubt about that whatsoever.

I didn’t grow up with pets. I married a dog person (to the core), so her dogs moved in when she did. Dogs have helped my wife get through some of the toughest times in her life. And, I must say, I’ve grown to enjoy having them around, too.  My wife can’t imagine living without them, and now that I’ve seen how they help my stress levels go down, I probably won’t argue about having them.

Letting go is never fun

We’ve euthanized two of our dogs since we’ve been married.  I was there when the first one was put down, and I bawled my eyes out.  And that wasn’t even my favorite one.  I wasn’t there when the vet put my favorite one down.  My wife took one for the team when she put him down.

(Side note:  I had real issues finding a good category for this post.  I finally added the “Family” category.  Because that’s what our pets are: family.)

Now, sadly, we’re facing a decision on another dog.  He’s on a lot of painkillers for arthritis.  But that has the effect of killing his appetite.  He’s not getting around well anymore.  He has been sleeping on a rug in our daughter’s room for quite a while.  Tonight, my wife told me that she wasn’t comfortable having him sleep in there anymore, because she didn’t want him to die in our daughter’s room.  That might freak her out for a long time (she’s eight).

His painkillers run out in less than two weeks.  My wife questioned whether we should bother refilling the prescription.

So, our old dog’s days are numbered, and the numbers aren’t that big anymore.

There is a point of diminishing return

Pets age just like humans do, and the end isn’t any prettier.  The playful, lively, happy pet that had never met a stranger now doesn’t want to have anything to do with anyone anymore.  They lie around.  They may stop eating.  They may lose control of their bodily functions, or of their limbs.

If too many of these things start happening too severely, the pet’s quality of life is mostly gone.  The pet may appear that he’s already checked out of this world.  If it looks like that, he probably has.

A more abrupt ending happens when the pet starts attacking other pets — or people — for no good reason.  That’s what happened to my favorite dog.  First, he took a nip at the landscaper.  Then he took a nip at my wife.  When he took a nip at our daughter (who was five at the time), that was it.  Sorry.  Three strikes; you’re out.

When the pet is old and things like this happen, fixing the problems becomes a really hard sell.  The bottom line is probably large.  And for what?  A few months, maybe?

I believe that it’s not a completely pragmatic decision to euthanize a pet.  I also believe that it’s not a callous decision to put the pet down.  It’s also merciful.  As hard as it was, we knew that it was time.  As hard as it was, we knew that the dogs had had good lives, and that life wasn’t good for them anymore.

It’s never an easy decision to say goodbye to a loved pet.  But it’s usually a clear decision.

It’s not a bargain either for the pet or the owner to hold on beyond that moment of clarity.

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. says

    Wow, I didn’t expect to come across a post like this in the personal finance blogosphere, but I’m glad I did. Keeping a pet alive for the enjoyment of the owners really prolongs emotions and keeps the pet in pain beyond what should be. Thanks for the great post!

    • John Wedding says

      I’m not sure I understand where you’re coming from in the second sentence. It sounds like you’re saying that we should have had the dog put down already, and that we’re being a bit selfish for having held on this long.

      My main point of the post was the opposite of what you said: NOT to keep the pet in pain beyond what should be.

      We’ve had this particular dog for eleven years — who was a stray, by the way — and the decline has happened recently, and quickly. We’ve found from experience that the decline is obvious.

      Until there’s an obvious decline, getting medicine for pets is routine caring for them. There has been a noticeable difference in prior times we’ve gotten medicine, but the medicine has stopped being effective.

      • says

        Hey John, thanks for responding. I’m not necessarily saying that you should have put the dog down already. I’m more saying that it irks me that people keep pets alive for the sheer enjoyment of themselves when the pet is suffering. If medication works, that’s great! Keep your pet as long as you can, as long as they’re not in excruciating pain. I thought you felt the same way as I was really agreeing with this statement…”It’s not a bargain either for the pet or the owner to hold on beyond that moment of clarity.”

        When a fast decline happens, and you know deep down inside it’s time, it can be very hard. I really hope that you find a medicine that works for your dog. I’m sure however, that if you do not, you’ll do the humane thing to do!

        P.S. thanks for sending me an email to let me know about your response!

  2. John Wedding says

    Ahhhhh … OK! I see where you’re coming from now! Makes much more sense, Josh. Thanks for clarifying!

    Like I mentioned, I’ve grown to like dogs, but my wife really has a heart for them. She won’t stand for suffering. She’ll also try a lot of things before saying enough is enough. And she was the one who broached the subject about when to let go. She has a much better sense of it than I do.

  3. says

    One of the toughest ordeals in life is to lose a beloved pet. I’ve experienced this twice already myself and it’s brutal. The next time will be the toughest I think because my dog has been with me for the past 12 years – pretty much through my whole “adult” life! He’s still going strong right now, but I know I don’t want to prolong his life just for my sake if/when he’s suffering.

    • John Wedding says

      It really is a fine line when to say enough is enough. As I mentioned in another comment, my wife has the better sense of this, so I follow her lead for the most part.

      What kind of dog do you have? Ours is a Samoyed mix.

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