Our furry friends bring us much joy, and we want them to always be happy and healthy. Unfortunately, there comes a time when we have to ask ourselves if they are still enjoying life. Cancer, chronic illness, severe arthritis, and dementia are some of the issues that can impact a pet’s quality of life. But how do we know when we’ve done enough and should let them go? It’s the most difficult decision we make as a pet owner; however, relief from a painful or unhappy existence is a wonderful gift that we can give our beloved four-legged friends. Knowing when it’s time to euthanize a pet is difficult, but there are ways to assess a pet’s quality of life and help with the decision-making process.
The first step is to speak to your pet’s veterinarian. He or she can review any health or behavioral issues with you and assist in providing you with an accurate picture of your pet’s current quality of life, health status, and long-term prognosis. Your vet is a good starting point, but you know your pet and are in the best position to monitor for changes that indicate a diminished quality of life.
The first thing to look for is pain or discomfort that cannot be controlled with medical intervention. Pets rarely cry or make noise when they are painful or uncomfortable. Instead, you may notice changes in sleep patterns such as sleeping more or less, sleeping in different areas, or difficulty getting into a comfortable sleeping position. Behavioral changes are another common sign. Not wanting to be groomed or touched, pacing, not wanting to play or go for walks, decreased interaction with family members, and aggression can be seen. Also monitor for lethargy and decreased appetite. If a pet has more than one of these signs, euthanasia should be considered.
Another thing to consider when trying to make this difficult decision is how much your pet’s daily routine and activities have been affected. Think about your pet when they were healthy and what defined their personality, what they enjoyed doing. It can be simple things such as always greeting you at the door, being a chow hound, playing with a favorite toy, going for walks, or laying next to you on the couch. Make a list of four or five of these traits. When two or more are lost, euthanasia is best. If this won’t work for your pet, or you want more assurance, start logging good days (alert, eating, normal social interaction, etc) and bad days (not eating, lethargic, depressed, vomiting or diarrhea, etc). When the the number of bad days approach or exceed the good, or if there are several bad days in a row, it is time. Our pets live in the present, so we do not want to allow them to linger in discomfort.
Ultimately, the decision to euthanize a beloved pet must be made by the owner(s). Hopefully, though, this information will give you more confidence in that decision. Always remember that your veterinarian also cares for your pet and is there to support and guide you along this difficult path and to answer any questions or concerns you have about the process.