How Do You Know When It Is Time to Say Goodbye to Your Dog?

Pet Health


March 24, 2021

If there is one thing that pet owners don’t want to think about, it is going to be making the decision of putting their pet down. Most pet owners don’t even want to give this any thought, but as your dog grows older or develops conditions that can impact its quality of life, it may come time to make that choice.

One of the most difficult aspects of making this decision is knowing when it is time to make that choice. There is always a balance of knowing when your dog’s life cannot have any more joy in it and knowing that there is still time left for the dog.

If you find yourself wondering if it might be approaching the time to say goodbye to your dog, one of the most important things that you can think about is going to be the overall quality of life scale for your dog. This will help you determine if it is going to be better for the comfort of your dog to say goodbye or if there is still time left.

Immediate Circumstances

Of course, there are going to be times when something unexpected happens. It could be that an older dog develops an aggressive cancer that cannot be easily treated. It could be that your dog had a stroke. These circumstances are different than watching your dog suffer from old age or a chronic illness.

In times when there has to be an immediate decision, such as with the conditions listed above, it can be hard to think through it, especially when everything comes to light suddenly. This is when talking to a veterinarian about what your dog’s quality of life would be, but chances are that depending on how emergent the circumstances are, it may be time to say goodbye right then and there, as hard as it can be.

Measuring the Quality of Life for Your Dog

When you find yourself wondering how do you know when it is time to put your dog down, the most important resource that you can use is going to be a quality of life scale. This is a scale that was developed by a veterinarian, Dr. Alice Villalobos, to determine objectively whether or not it is time for your dog to pass on.

The scale, which can sometimes be referred to as the HHHHHMM Scale, measures seven areas of your dog’s life: hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more good days than bad. Each category is graded on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest and 0 being the lowest, and you perform the assessment three times over three consecutive days to get an average of how your dog’s quality of life is.

If the total score for this scale (averaged out) is above 35 out of a possible 70, then your dog’s quality of life may be considered acceptable. If the total score does not come above 35, then it may be time to consider putting the dog down. You should always discuss this with a veterinarian to ensure that your decision is well-informed.

Understanding the Scale

As mentioned earlier, the scale is designed to measure seven different areas of your dog’s life according to how much care and assistance you need to provide your dog for it to be able to live comfortably.

Hurt refers to how much pain your dog is in and how manageable it is, including needing supplemental oxygen. Hunger refers to how willing your dog is to eat and whether or not you can hand-feed it or if it is confined to a feeding tube. Hydration, similarly, refers to how easily your dog can take in fluids and if it needs to have supplemental fluids and how it responds to those.

Hygiene refers to your dog’s ability to keep itself clean, incontinence, and bedsores from being unable to move. Happiness refers to your dog’s mood and how much interest your dog shows in the world around it, including to toys, treats, and people. Mobility refers to how easily your dog can get around and how much assistance is needed to do so, as well as looking at how frequent stumbling and seizures are.

Finally, the category of having more good days than bad refers to how often the bad days dominate your dog’s health and life. If your dog is still able to have plenty of good days, though with assistance, then it may not be the end. If the bad days are outnumbering the good, then it may be time to make a decision.

Talking with Your Vet

You should never make this kind of decision without the assistance of a veterinarian. Ideally, the veterinarian should be able to give his or her input about the scale to help you further your assessment. You should also talk to your vet about the possibilities of alternatives.

For example, if your dog has a considerably bad infection around one of its paws and it is an older dog that may be more impacted by that infection, the idea of amputation may be on the table. While some people think amputation is worse than euthanasia, many dogs are able to adapt and live full lives.

This is one of those situations when individual situations can make all the difference and is one of the biggest reasons why you are going to need to have your vet’s input of what alternatives there are and playing out what those alternatives would mean for your dog’s health and longevity.

Knowing When it Is Time

The last thing you need to consider is that, for some dogs, there is the idea of waiting too long to put the dog down. Naturally, it can be devastating to watch the decline of a dog’s health in hospice. However, the longer that you wait to make the decision, the more suffering your dog will have to endure.

It is rarely reliable to wait for your dog to pass peacefully. That is the kind of passing that everyone wants to have happen, but there are many situations where that kind of natural death cannot happen nearly as peacefully. This is another area you should talk to your vet about, as well as comparing the passing through euthanasia and passing naturally.