How to Know When It’s Time to Choose Euthanasia for Your Pet

Updated on May 17, 2019
nybride710 profile image

Lisa is a veterinary writer who writes blog posts for several clients in the Midwest. She is also owned by two pampered older cats.

Our Angel has lived with us since the age of eight months and turns 17 in July.
Our Angel has lived with us since the age of eight months and turns 17 in July.

As a fur mom of two senior felines, soon to turn 17 and 13, it can move me to tears to even think about the end of their lives. Having been through the sudden death of our nine-year-old cat just two years ago, I know the grief of pet loss all too well. We did choose euthanasia for Shadow when it was clear he was in agonizing pain from heart disease and wasn’t going to recover. It seemed like the only choice we could really make.

With the current older kitty residents, Angel and Little Boy, I’m assuming the decision will come down to old age and quality-of-life issues rather than the sudden onset of an illness. However, Angel did become suddenly ill this winter and we, once again, had to face the euthanasia decision. We didn’t expect her to recover at age 16 1/2, but she sure surprised us!

I researched euthanasia options at the time and decided on in-home euthanasia. I even contacted a place and talked about Angel’s situation. While it turns out that we didn’t need their services, I know this is what I will go with when the time does come. In the meantime, I would like to share with you what I learned when I researched how to know when it’s time to choose humane euthanasia for your pet.

If there’s one thing all pet lovers can agree on, it’s that our faithful companions just don’t live long enough. It seems like you just brought that little puppy or kitten home and now it’s many years later and it’s clear his quality of life is suffering. Is it time to pursue humane euthanasia?

In loving memory of Shadow, December 2007 - March 2017
In loving memory of Shadow, December 2007 - March 2017

Factors to Consider in the Euthanasia Decision

Your veterinarian can help you evaluate your options and the quality of life of your pet, but he or she should never try to make the decision for you. Below are several questions to ask yourself that can point you in the right direction. It won’t be an easy process, but in the end, you will feel more confident that you’re making the right choice for your beloved pet.

  • Does your pet suffer from chronic pain that doesn’t get better with treatment, including prescription medication and alternative therapies?
  • Has your veterinarian told you that she has a terminal illness? Do you expect this to be a calm time or one filled with pain and suffering?
  • Can he no longer control certain body functions? For example, a dog who can’t navigate the stairs or a cat who is no longer able to jump to his favorite perch both have a reduced quality of life. Difficulty with elimination is also common.
  • Will the treatments available only prolong her suffering or do you expect them to improve her quality of life?
  • Are your pet’s gums discolored? This indicates a lack of oxygen.
  • Can you afford the estimated cost of treatment? While it might not seem right to bring money into it, prolonging your pet’s life for a few months can leave you with bills to pay for the next several years.

One of the most difficult things to determine is whether you are acting in your pet’s best interest or your own. You have loved him for 10, 15, or even 20 years and saying good-bye is more painful than you ever imagined. It’s only natural that you want to avoid that type of grief. However, there comes a time when you have to put his right to pass peacefully ahead of your own desire to hold on.

Little Boy, a gorgeous Maine Coon who came to live with us 2.5 years ago. He turns 13 in September.
Little Boy, a gorgeous Maine Coon who came to live with us 2.5 years ago. He turns 13 in September.

Decide What Brings Joy to Your Pet’s Life

Another thing that can be helpful in the euthanasia decision is to write down several things that make your pet’s life a happy one. For cats, it might include snuggling up with their favorite people, watching the birds outside, and batting around a toy mouse. A list for dogs could include going on long walks, riding in the car, and playing fetch. Write down as many activities as you can think of that give your pet a high quality of life.

After completing your list, assess how many of these things your dog or cat can still do without struggling. The inability to walk normally, jump, or see a toy clearly would eliminate all of the above items. If you end up crossing off more than half of the list, your pet’s quality of life is quite poor. At this point, making the decision to euthanize is the most loving thing you can do.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Lisa Kroulik

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      • nybride710 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lisa Kroulik 

        3 weeks ago from Minnesota

        That's what happened with our Shadow. Perfectly healthy until age 9 and then suddenly developed heart disease. He was howling through the night, could barely walk unless he dragged his back legs, and wouldn't eat or sleep. He just sat there staring into space. Euthanasia was the right choice but was so hard on my daughters. Our other two have outlived him by many years but still don't look forward to facing that choice again. Sorry for the loss of your dog!

      • profile image

        Lorna Lamon 

        3 weeks ago

        Hi Lisa, This article really resonated with me as we had to put our beloved dog to sleep three years ago. He was always an active dog and even thought he was 13 years young he still had the energy of a puppy. However, when he contracted heart disease we knew that there was no cure. We decided on euthanasia because we couldn't bear to see him suffer. It's true our pets don't live long enough and your article gives great advice on how to let go, and do what is best for our pets.

      • nybride710 profile imageAUTHOR

        Lisa Kroulik 

        4 weeks ago from Minnesota

        Thank you! You are so right. I don't look forward to going through it again, likely sooner rather than later, but the life we have shared with them has been amazing and worth it.

      • Ellison Hartley profile image

        Ellison Hartley 

        4 weeks ago from Maryland, USA

        This is a really nice article. It is so hard losing our pets. You know what they say, God made it so our pets aren't here with as long so we can learn to grieve the loss, heal and then open our hearts to another pet when we are ready to.

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