We think of our dogs as friends and family members, so facing the fact that they won't live forever can be almost unbearable. This is easy to put out of your mind when your dog is young, healthy, and full of vigor—but when you have a senior dog with a terminal illness or intense, chronic pain, you inevitably have to address the situation.
Without a doubt, the hardest decision you will have to make as a dog owner is whether or not you will have to put your old friend to sleep. In many cases, euthanasia (carried out by means of painless injection) is the fairest way to offer your dog a quick and painless end.
If putting your dog to sleep is something you're considering, it's a good idea to discuss the process with your vet well in advance. Decide where and when the procedure will take place, which family members will be present, and how the remains will be handled. You'll also want to discuss with your family how they'd like to say their good-byes. In some cases, veterinarians will actually come to your home and perform the procedure, which can take much of the edge off saying good-bye. Your dog can stay in the comfort of his own bed, in his own home. What's more, you don't have to deal with the clinical environment of the vet's office or pass through a crowded waiting room.
Grief and bereavement counseling
If a family member is having trouble adjusting to the loss of a dog, you may want to ask your vet for a referral to local grief counseling services or pet loss support groups. You can also find information and help on the Internet, such as The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) at http://www.aplb.org.
The nicest thing you can do for your dog—and for yourself—is to never forget that he was a dear friend and an important part of your family.