How do you know when it's the right time to put your dog to sleep? Sue Corfield explains...
Every dog owner lives in dread of the day when they will have to say goodbye to their trusted friend.
We all hope that our canine companions will slip away in their sleep, but the reality is that less than a quarter of dogs end their life in this manner. Instead, many of us will be forced to take the heart-rending step of having our dogs euthanised when their quality of life is compromised.
Knowing when the time is right to ‘call it a day' is incredibly hard, and nobody can make that choice for you.
Sadly, although this is one of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make, it is also one of the kindest things you can do for your pet. Most people would not want to suffer a lingering, painful death and thankfully our pets don't have to.
Deciding when is the right time to put your dog to sleep
Your vet will offer valuable guidance, although the ultimate decision will rest with you.
Take time to consider your pet's condition and quality of life. Is your dog still interested in life? Does he still have a quality of life? Is he free of pain, serious discomfort, or distress? Can he still carry out his normal bodily functions without difficulty?
Considering your answers to all of these questions will help you to arrive at a decision.
Most dog owners who have made these hard decisions in the past will either say: "I could have given him longer," or "I should have done it sooner." There is no ideal time and once you have decided the moment is right, there is no point in beating yourself up about it afterwards.
Vicky Foulkes, veterinary nurse team leader at ChesterGates Veterinary Specialists, Chester, said: "As a large referrals hospital, we see a number of pets with end of life problems.
"Each case needs very careful and individual consideration. Our role as veterinary professionals is to guide pet owners and help them make the correct decision for them and their pet. It can often be a very difficult decision, but our job is to make that decision-making process as considered as possible."
Occasionally, owners may refuse to accept the inevitable and can cause unnecessary suffering to an animal by keeping it alive.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) states that in extreme cases, vets can intervene.
What is euthanasia?
Euthanasia means gentle or easy death. An intravenous injection of a barbiturate is given. This is essentially an overdose of anaesthetic usually injected into the fore leg.
In a few seconds the dog is completely unconscious and doesn't feel anything apart from the prick of the needle. Their breathing slows down and cardiac arrest occurs, followed by death.
Sometimes, the vet provides a sedative prior to the lethal injection. This helps to make the passing more peaceful, as the pet becomes relaxed and sleepy beforehand.
After death, there may occasionally be some muscle spasms, trembling legs, and loss of bladder or bowel control. Although this can be distressing, it is perfectly normal.
Pets are often euthanised at the veterinary surgery but it is possible to have your dog put to sleep at home. There may be an extra charge for this. The benefits of the procedure taking place at home are that it is often less stressful for the dog and can be a more personal and intimate farewell.
Many rural and traditional veterinary practices are geared to providing this service, but some busy town practices are less willing. However, if this is important to you then do stress this to your practice.
Iain Prentice, partner at Newlands Veterinary Practice in Craven Arms, Shropshire, said: "We get many requests to put pets to sleep at home and I don't see it as a problem. It provides a less stressful environment for both dog and owner."
Some owners want to be with their pet at the end but for others it is too painful to witness their pet's departure. There is no right or wrong, it is down to each individual's preference. Listen to your heart and be open to your dog's feelings.
The cost of euthanasia will vary depending upon the size of the dog and the practice scale of charging, but can be around £38 for a medium-sized dog put to sleep at the surgery. The cost may double for a home visit.
Debbie and Skye
Debbie Bird rescued Lurcher Skye when she was a three-month-old puppy.
She had been left behind by some potato pickers and was living rough in a quarry with her mother and five siblings.
Debbie said: "We became close very quickly. She was very sensitive and if I was upset she would share my grief.
"She was born and spent most of her life in Pembrokeshire but moved 10 times with me over the past 11 years.
"This year I moved into a camper van and have been working away in Dorset. I took the dogs with me. We had a great summer staying in a woodland campsite with 12 acres of woods to run in.
"Skye turned 11 this summer and apart from a deterioration in her hearing she remained as fit as a fiddle - or so I thought. Then, while out walking one evening, she had a massive fit."
Debbie took Skye to the vet's but they couldn't find anything wrong with her. The vet advised Debbie that it was unlikely to be epilepsy at Skye's age and to see if it happened again. It happened again five days later and Skye went for further tests, including an MRI scan.
The results confirmed the worst: Skye had a large right-sided partial lobe brain tumour with a great deal of swelling surrounding it.
Debbie continued: "The specialist vet gave me a number of choices: they could put her to sleep there and then before she came round from the anaesthetic, operate but this would involve further general anaesthetics and, even if successful, it would only give her another year of life, or try a course of steroids to reduce the swelling and possibly the tumour, and start her on epileptic drugs to see if this managed the condition for a while.
"Skye hated going to the vet's and all the tests upset her terribly. I decided to give the medication a go. Initially, the drugs turned her into a zombie and she wasn't like my girl any more. However, she gradually adjusted to them and became more herself again.
"I worried constantly that if I was away from her she might have a fi t when I wasn't there to hold her, keep her safe, and reassure her when she came out of it. She was always disorientated, distressed, and exhausted afterwards.
"I took her back to Pembrokeshire for a week and hoped she would find a new lease of life. Every time she had a fit I seemed to lose a little bit of her.
"I was thinking that maybe I should have her put to sleep, as each time she had a fit she grew more exhausted and lacklustre.
"I was concerned that she might be in pain too, as she sometimes objected to me smoothing her ears, something that she used to love prior to her fits."
Debbie and Skye had a wonderful week together in Pembrokeshire - running on the beach and walking along the cliffs. Skye went for the whole break without a fit.
Sadly, it wasn't to last. "At 1am I woke up to her starting to fit," said Debbie. "She was very distressed and it took me a long time to calm her down."
Debbie arranged for her friend, Kath, a local vet, to come over to put Skye to sleep at home in Pembrokeshire.
Debbie said: "I took her for a lovely early morning walk on the beach and then Kath met us at home. Skye was lying in front of the fire and I held her in my arms as Kath kindly put her to sleep in a calm, loving manner.
"I could not do it any other way because Skye was so scared of visiting the vet's, and even if she was sedated, I didn't want that fear to be the last thing she thought of."