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Making this last decision for your dog or cat can be difficult. Help is here.

Many pet owners have said they wish their ailing pet would pass peacefully in his or her sleep. But it is rare for a pet to pass in this way. Near the end of life, most dogs and cats will feel discomfort; they may experience weakness, lack of appetite, dehydration, nausea, difficulty breathing, immobility, disorientation, self-soiling, and even pain. Symptoms like these may be subtle at first and slowly increase over time. The natural dying process may last for many days.

When a pet’s quality of life is severely diminished, few pet owners want to watch their friend decline until the end comes unassisted. When a pet is suffering, the decision to end life may be clear, despite the sadness that goes with this decision. Often however, knowing when it is time to end a life is difficult. Many pets will experience good days (times of relative comfort and happiness) interspersed with bad days (times when the pet will not eat, seems painful, or is inactive or withdrawn).

Here are some things you may consider as you make this important decision. You may find yourself vacillating - this is normal, especially as your pet’s condition will change from day to day.  Please contact Dr. Ivey if you need help evaluating your pet’s quality of life or if you are having difficulty with a euthanasia decision. It is most important that you feel certain that any decision you make is best for your friend.

Is my pet suffering?

Suffering is caused by serious, often-present pain or discomfort. For example, a bone tumor or spinal disease can cause intense pain that cannot be relieved by medication. Other causes of severe discomfort include difficulty breathing, ongoing nausea, or disorientation due to cognitive changes. Many pets cope very well with minor disabilities, such as arthritis or weakness - these do not cause suffering if the condition is minor or can be helped with medication. Some problems, for example blindness, seem to be much less troubling to pets than to humans.

What is my pet’s Quality of Life?

What if my pet still has good days?

Many ailing pets still enjoy good days - this makes an end of life decision especially difficult. We don’t want to deprive our friend of joy in life, but we don’t want to prolong an uncomfortable decline. We often don’t know what the future will bring. Answering the following questions may help:

Other ways to think about Quality of Life

If you feel your pet is slowly approaching the end of his or her life, but your heart is still troubled in making a euthanasia decision, try asking yourself these questions:

What if some family members are not ready? Difficult decisions are even harder when family members don’t agree on what’s best. Most people, especially children, remember these hard decisions for a very long time. For this reason, it is important that all family members can discuss their feelings. Ideally, the decisions made for a family pet are made together, and everyone is ready when a euthanasia decision is made. Sometimes it helps to remember that euthanasia is not about ending a pet’s life - the pet’s disease is ending his or her life. Euthanasia is a loving gift to prevent suffering, and allows a beloved pet to end life with dignity and comfort. Please remember that the timing of euthanasia is an emotional as well as a medical decision. Feelings of guilt or not being ready to let go are issues that can last for a very long time, even years, after a pet has passed.

Is recovery possible?

If you are having trouble with a euthanasia decision because you are not sure what your pet’s prognosis is, please contact Dr. Ivey to discuss this. She will discuss your pet’s individual situation with you; this includes not only a discussion of the medical aspects, but also a discussion of what types of treatment both you and your pet are comfortable with.

Tips for pets with decreased mobility

Mobility is a significant end of life concern for many pets, especially large dogs. Limited mobility may be due to arthritis, neurological disease, or muscular weakness. Treatments to help mobility and comfort may include:

Other concerns Many other factors can make a euthanasia decision especially hard. Children’s feelings, feelings of guilt, and questions regarding the ethics of euthanasia are examples of other issues your family may be dealing with. Don’t forget to consider your own quality of life also: pets that are incontinent, need continuous care, or are up all night can create real problems for their beloved humans. With human hospice, several nurses provide care in shifts; 24 hour care does not fall on one person’s shoulders.

Many people experience strong feelings of grief at the time a final diagnosis is given, when the pet is still alive. This is anticipatory grief, and it can be just as painful as when a beloved pet dies. This period is especially hard when many big decisions must be made regarding treatment and euthanasia. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement has special resources for people with anticipatory grief, including an online discussion room, at the APLB web site.

Other Euthanasia Topics:

What to Expect, How to Prepare


Knowing When