How Do I Know When It’s Time?


Pet owners are not only blessed with the ability to make decisions for their pet, but they also share the difficult responsibility of deciding when it is time to humanely end an animal’s life through euthanasia, or the act of ‘putting your pet to sleep’. Some consider it fortunate that we don’t have to watch our beloved pets suffer indefinitely with a terminal illness in the same manner as humans often do. However, pet euthanasia can be an agonizing decision for pet owners trying to decide if the time is right. Because our pets cannot tell us what their preference would be, and because we cannot ask them the degree to which they are silently suffering, it is natural for us to struggle for long periods of time with this emotionally painful decision.

If you’re not sure if your pet is ready to be euthanized, a Quality of Life Consultation with a vet can help you get the answers you need from a medical perspective. This type of appointment is designed to answer your questions related to your pet’s quality of life and see if there are any medications or treatment options that may help your pet live more comfortably — or if it may be time to say goodbye.

Vets consider many factors in providing guidance, including the animal’s appetite, energy level, body condition, mobility, pain, and cognitive function when helping an owner assess a pet’s quality of life. With some illnesses, diagnostics such as blood work or x-rays can be used to give us an idea of the degree to which the animal is feeling unwell, and what the likelihood is that the illness will improve or worsen over time.

In general, we suggest that our clients consider euthanasia when the pet’s bad days outnumber their good days. The purpose of euthanasia is to eliminate prolonged, untreatable, or inevitable suffering. Therefore, it can be argued that it is better to euthanize a terminally ill or aged animal a day too early than a day too late.

It’s important to note that suffering isn’t limited to physical pain in order to warrant compassionate euthanasia. Some elderly pets will experience symptoms of dementia and constant confusion or restlessness, which can lead to mental suffering for both the pet and the owner. Some pets will succumb to organ failure which, although not particularly painful, can cause suffering in the form of chronic nausea and lack of appetite.

It is not uncommon for loving pet guardians to believe that if their pet is relatively mobile and still eating that their pet is not suffering. However, animals are extremely good at hiding their pain and distress, so as a pet owner, you may not know the extent of their actual discomfort. When you think about what life would be like for an ill or injured animal in the wild, it makes sense that a pet in distress would attempt to disguise their symptoms whenever possible as a way to protect itself. For this reason, it can be very helpful to consult with your veterinarian to get a better understanding of your pet’s physical condition and the pain and distress it may be causing.

Euthanasia for Dogs and Cats

Pets can be incredibly loved and important members of our families and once they are gone, they leave a space in our heart that is impossible to fill. If you have any questions about the services we provide or if you would like help in your journey, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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