Dear AKC: I have a 14 ½ year old Shih Tzu which I love dearly. I got her to keep me and my younger daughter company when my oldest daughter went off to college. Now she's blind, she's almost deaf, she stumbles on her back right leg when she walks, and she hardly moves all day. She sits in my chair and doesn't move most of the day. She's also just started occasionally crying for no apparent reason and I wonder if she's in pain. My question is, how can I be sure when it's time to have her put to sleep? I don't want her to suffer and just watching her move around the house running into things just breaks my heart. I love her enough to let her go but I don't want to do that until it's my last resort. — Crossing the Rainbow Bridge
Dear Crossing: Dealing with end-of-life issues for our beloved pets that have provided years of constant companionship can be one of the hardest decisions we ever have to make as dog owners. Working with your veterinarian to determine what types of treatment are necessary in your dog's later life will help you make medically informed decisions that will keep your pet comfortable.
Ultimately it will be up to you to decide when its “time” for you to let her cross over the rainbow bridge and join all our other departed pets. When making this decision we always want to do what's best for our pets, and to your point you don't want her to be in pain, and you don't want to do anything that would harm her but you also note that it breaks your heart to see her this way.
Knowing When to Say Goodbye
I have found in my experience with my older dogs that when they stop eating, can't relieve themselves, sleep all day long, or I feel my dog's pain just by watching them, then that is the time to consider putting her to sleep. Many times people will say their pets, “told me when it was time to go” and I couldn't agree more. By paying close attention to her personality and noting when things change for the worse and your vet has advised you that nothing else can be done to keep her comfortable or stop a progressing disease, then it is time to have the courage to do what is best for her. After making this courageous decision, your beloved pet will thank you for having the strength to give her the peace she deserves and more importantly the dignity you want her to have.