Unfortunately, our dogs won’t always be the energetic and bouncy puppies they once were. As they get into their senior years, their mobility deteriorates and begins to slow down.
It’s heartbreaking to think of our beloved pets as being in pain, even when they perform simple tasks such as getting up and down or going for a walk.
This article should help you make a more informed decision about when to put your dog down. So, when is the right time to euthanize a dog with arthritis?
Euthanasia for dogs with arthritis should be considered when dogs’ quality of life is severely impaired, and they can no longer enjoy activities they once did, despite treatment and management of pain. Euthanasia is a difficult decision, but ultimately one made with the dog’s best interest in mind.
If your dog suffers from mobility issues, you’ll likely do anything to help them live a happy life. Before you decide to have them euthanized, there are some simple changes you’ll want to try first.
How Do I Know if My Dog is in Pain from Arthritis?
Usually affecting dogs’ back legs, osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints that results in inflammation, pain, and a reduced range of motion.
Large breed dogs are more commonly affected than smaller breeds, and genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia predispose dogs to arthritis later in life.
It is important to know the symptoms of arthritis to look out for as your dog gets older; these include:
- Exercise intolerance and reluctance to play
- Difficulty getting up and down
- Lameness or limping
- Difficulty or discomfort when going to the toilet
- Pain when performing simple movements or when touched in certain areas
- Falling or splaying legs outwards
Some of these symptoms can be managed through changes you can make at home and/or medication. However, for some dogs, their arthritis may have developed to a point where their pain is so severe, even despite medication, that it is no longer fair to keep them alive.
If they frequently collapse, yelp in pain, and have no interest in activities or food, their quality of life is poor.
While it’s the hardest decision for any owner, it must be done with your dog’s best interests. Always think of euthanasia as a blessing; it allows an end to your pet’s suffering rather than them continuing in pain.
How Long Can a Dog Live With Arthritis?
Since arthritis is primarily a disease of the joints and doesn’t affect the vital organs, it is not life-threatening – many dogs will pass away due to other diseases before the symptoms of arthritis become extreme.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease diagnosed in veterinary medicine and poses considerable challenges to canine welfare.
Osteoarthritis is estimated to affect 20% of all dogs, and the prevalence only increases with age; 80% or more dogs over the age of 8 will develop some degree of arthritis. Dogs can continue to live many happy and playful years with the proper management changes and the addition of medication.
How to Help a Dog with Arthritis at Home
The furniture around your house that once acted as a playground for your younger athletic puppy may now seem more like an unnecessary obstacle course for your senior dog.
Simple changes like moving your dogs’ bed and feeding bowl closer together will prevent unnecessarily long trips back and forth, and always be sure to keep your dogs’ claws trimmed.
Seemingly impossible tasks such as jumping in the car, climbing the stairs, and getting on and off the bed are a real struggle for an arthritic dog – steps and ramps can help.
Laminate or wooden floors often prove very slippery for arthritic dogs, so simply putting rugs between your dog’s favorite stops will allow them to gain more traction as they move around the house.
Obesity is another predisposing factor to arthritis; overweight dogs have more force going through their joints which speeds up the degeneration process. Short, frequent walks will allow your dog to stay active and fit without wearing them out and put them on a diet if necessary.
Joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin have also benefited dogs with arthritis by keeping the cartilage within the joints healthy.
Can my Vet do Anything to Help with My Dog’s Arthritis?
Dogs showing severe symptoms of arthritis may benefit from medical or surgical veterinary management. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to treat arthritis in dogs, and many owners report miraculous improvements in their dog’s mobility after starting such medications.
Other ‘human’ drugs, such as tramadol and gabapentin, can be used off-license to manage pain in arthritic dogs. There are many options available for pain relief medication for dogs, and unfortunately, most don’t come without side effects, so be sure to speak to your vet for advice.
Even if you think your dog is showing severe symptoms and signs of end-stage arthritis, it may be worth trialing them on medication before deciding whether to have them put to sleep.
Many owners often wonder if surgery is available for dogs with arthritis. While not commonly performed, there are specialist surgical interventions that a specialist orthopedic vet can carry out.
These usually involve entering the affected joint(s) and cleaning up loose bone or cartilage fragments contributing to inflammation. In the case of severe hip dysplasia and arthritis affecting a dog’s back legs, a total hip replacement may even be performed.
While there are treatment options available for degenerative joint disease, there inevitably comes the point where end-stage arthritis in dogs becomes too painful to manage, and choosing when to euthanize a dog with arthritis is never an easy choice to make.
Talk to your vet if you have tried most of the above options and think your dog is suffering. When emotions are high, they can help you come to a rational conclusion on whether it is time to have your beloved companion euthanized.
It is undoubtedly the hardest decision any owner will have to make, but you can take comfort in that you are doing it for the right reasons.
1. Euthanasia: Making the decision. American Humane. (2016, September 6). Retrieved January 28, 2023, from https://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/euthanasia-making-the-decision/
2. Knesl, O., Hart, B. L., Fine, A. H., Cooper, L., Patterson-Kane, E., Houlihan, K. E., & Anthony, R. (2017, March 14). Veterinarians and humane endings: When is it the right time to euthanize a companion animal? Frontiers. Retrieved January 28, 2023, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2017.00045/full
3. How do I know when it’s time? – Ohio State University. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2023, from https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/sites/default/files/import/assets/pdf/hospital/companionAnimals/HonoringtheBond/HowDoIKnowWhen.pdf