How Will I Know When It's "Time" to Put a Pet to Sleep?

Mature woman cuddling her dog
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Having to make the decision to end a pet's life is never easy, and rarely has a clear cut answer. This FAQ focuses on ways to evaluate your pet's "quality of life", and make a decision that that won't be filled with regret and guilt.

It is an intensely personal decision to euthanize ("put to sleep") a beloved pet due to injury, old age, and disease. People often wonder if they will know when it is "time", and many ask their veterinarian "what would you do if it were your pet?".

As a veterinarian, I am often asked this question but can not make this final decision for any pet owner. Instead, I focus on the medical issues and facts, so the owner will have the knowledge to help make an informed decision. This may include discussing the possible outcomes of terminal disease or conditions so the owners know what to expect and watch out for. Even so, the answer is not always obvious, so I offer this thought: it is probably "time" when the bad days begin to outnumber the good ones. Pet owners usually have an idea of what is 'good' and 'bad' in the life of their pet. Chart time over a week or month.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating your pet's quality of life:

  • Does your pet soil him/herself during the day? This can really be a stressor for some pets who prefer to be clean, and it can also pose health risks - i.e. skin rashes and infections from sitting in urine and/or feces.
  • Does your pet still enjoy "basic activities" such as eating? Is the appetite normal?
  • Does your pet enjoy human interaction? Is s/he still cognizant of who you are?
  • Can your pet move around without difficulty or pain?

Additionally, familiarizing yourself with the process of euthanasia and what to expect before hand may help lessen the stress and anxiety of the actual event.

Do not be afraid to ask your veterinarian beforehand about the procedure or any other questions that you may have. This is an emotionally charged time, and living with unanswered questions or guilt can hinder the healing process. Please see this page for more resources on coping with loss and grief.