This heart-breaking question is one no owner wants to ask. But for a dog in pain, not to ask the question could mean unnecessary suffering. Indeed, to think deeply about your pet's quality of life is empowering. How so? Well, sometimes working out things could be better to help the caring pet parent see that additional pain relief is what's needed.
Whether or not to euthanize dog with hip dysplasia is such a hard decision because the dog may be in pain but otherwise well. It's natural that emotion clouds judgement which makes thinking difficult. To make things clearer, one approach is to use a quality of life scoring system. These work by giving aspects of the dog's life a number ( 0 - 10 ) and the lower the score the worse the pet's quality of life.
For the owner asking "My dog has hip dysplasia, should I put him down?" Let's adapt a system devised by the respected end-of-life specialist veterinarian, Dr Alice Villalobos.
Here's how a scoring system works.
Think about each of the categories below and give them a score. This is in your best-buddy's interest so be honest.
Rank them on from 0 to 10, where zero is down-in-the-dumps and ten is bouncing with energy.
Hip dysplasia causes pain and discomfort. It is a basic requirement for life that pain is controlled. Dogs with hip dysplasia have lived with pain all their lives, which has hopefully been controlled by medication. But there comes a time when the med they've taken for years no longer works.
Recognizing signs of pain is key. These can be subtle, such as
Think this through and give the dog a score. Write this score down and keep in somewhere. It can be helpful to refer back to if you're not sure how your best buddy is doing.
Remember, identifying a dog with hip dysplasia is in pain, doesn't mean euthanasia is the only answer. Veterinarians have a raft of pain relieving medications they can call upon to bring pets increased comfort.
When it hurts to get up, there's a risk the dog might soil themselves. This goes against their dignity and needs keeping a close eye on. Also, if those hips are so stiff it hurts to poop, then something needs to change.
Think about how often the dog has accidents in the home (they can't get outside quick enough) or soil their bed. Likewise, struggling to squat to go to the toilet isn't fun. Knowing this gives the dog a score.
It's quality (not quantity) of life that matters. A miserable dog that's depressed and in pain, is unlikely to be happy. A measure of happiness is how much the dog takes part in family life and whether or not they can still do things that made them happy in younger life.
For example, does the dog get up to greet you, ask to play games, get excited by meal times, and still nag to go for walks?
If you're struggling with this one, ask yourself what makes the dog's tail wag each day or do they seem anxious, depressed, and withdrawn?
One reason to euthanize dog with hip dysplasia may be poor mobility. This can be hard to judge, since they may have been lame for some time. But have things got worse recently? Has the dog started to stumble and fall? Do they no longer go for walks because they collapse and are too large for you to carry home?
Mobility varies day to day, so no snap judgements on this one. Perhaps watch them for a week, and see if they have more good days than bad...which brings us onto our last category.
Everyone has bad days, but when those bad days outnumber the good...then something needs to change. A mistake many owner's make is to wait until there are no good days to decide for euthanasia, which runs the risk that after the pet's passing they feel guilty that they didn't act soon enough.
Be honest about the bigger picture, and don't let the odd good day amongst a sea of bad days, stop you from making a hard decision.
The aim for each category is to score over five, as meaning a reasonable quality of life. Below this, and there is a real risk the pet is struggling or even suffering. Indeed, low scores (especially in the pain category) are a red flag that the pet needs help one way or another.
It may be possible to improve the scores by adding in additional pain relief or using a sling to improve mobility...but know that something has to improve for the better.
One factor that should not be part of the decision is cost. If you can't afford the procedure, let the vet know. They may be able to direct you to a charity who can help or else arrange a payment scheme to soften the expense.
Most vets undertake euthanasia at cost or below. Even so, for a large dog this could be over $100 or more. This is down to the factors such as the cost of catheters, trained staff, injectable agents, and cremation (which is expensive.) Also, there is a cost involved in home visits, so if cash is tight then visiting the vet's office is more economic.
My heart goes out to anyone wondering whether to euthanize dog with hip dysplasia. My parting thought is this: It takes courage and selflessness to let a cherished pet go. Be sure to do what's best for the pet, put their needs first and your feelings second. It's the hardest decision, but knowing you didn't let the pet suffer is some comfort.
The article was written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS