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Many dog owners will one day face the sad fact that their animal companions are ill and will die soon. A large number of them express the desire to have their dog quietly and mercifully die at home “in their sleep.” This conjures up peaceful notions for pet parents of a solemn and gentle passing.
But what’s the reality? Do dogs really die peacefully in their sleep?
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me. I’m the Irreverent Veterinarian, and I give you my honest opinion on issues in the animal care world. Some might say that I’m honest to a fault. I speak my mind and I won’t sweet-talk you or sugarcoat the truth. I tell it like it is: to you, the drug companies, the pet product manufacturers, professional breeders, and pet owners. Some of what I say can be controversial, but that doesn’t stop me—it can be hard to hear the truth.
How Long Are Dogs Sick Before They Die?
Death isn’t always swift and graceful. Sick dogs can be ill for hours, days, or even weeks. It can vary from pet to pet, so one might succumb after only a brief illness while another will languish for much longer.
A dog that is so ill that you think it is destined to die likely has no quality of life. If a pet is doing poorly and looks like he or she is “dying,” there’s a very good chance that they are uncomfortable, in pain and unhappy. Their breath might be labored and their body may hurt. Their mind can be clouded and their temper can be short. A dog that is not eating, having trouble breathing, acting lethargic or weak, can’t stand and walk, can’t control urine or bowel movements, or is unconscious is “suffering”. If a dog can’t sleep without discomfort or difficulty, that is suffering too. All in all, they are no longer enjoying their life to any real degree.
Some pet parents have no intention of providing additional veterinary care for their dog. They want their dog to peacefully die. This happens in a number of situations. Perhaps they have limited financial resources or the pet is an injured stray they have found. Maybe they have already treated the dog and it either hasn’t responded to therapy or has a terminal condition. However it happens, these animals often end up in prolonged discomfort or pain because of their owners.
Should You Wait for Your Dog to Die in His or Her Sleep?
If a dog is suffering, “dying naturally” can take a very long time and it can be very painful. Many owners say that they want to give their pet “time to say goodbye” but in the opinion of most veterinarians, you are a kinder friend to your dog by euthanizing and ending their life. An extra few hours or days of suffering isn’t any reasonable quality of life for the dog. It is good only for the humans who are prolonging the dog’s pain for their own needs.
The expectation that your dog will “die in their sleep” can happen, but it is generally uncommon. It is more likely that a dog dies because they aren’t eating and they get progressive dehydration, which is uncomfortable and painful. It is nice to want your dog to die at home but please consider euthanasia if it is at all likely. You have the power to put a peaceful end to your pet’s suffering; doing so may be your last act of love for them.
Disclaimer **The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to PetPlace.com. The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can’t say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet and not the views of PetPlace.com and are not endorsed by PetPlace.com.**
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