This is the most common question I get from families as their pets age and get closer to the end of life. The answer is never an easy one and it is different for every family, pet and situation. One of the most painful experiences we can face in our lifetime is the loss of a beloved pet. The decision to euthanize is so difficult. We experience agonizing conflict about what is the best thing for us to do. As we begin to notice more and more signs of aging and disease developing in our pets over time, we naturally tend to avoid thinking about it; it's to painful to face the end.
No one ever wants to say goodbye. We often get stuck and can’t decide or take action because of the fear of our loss and anticipated grief of their passing. We keep hoping that they will take the choice out of our hands and pass on their own in their sleep. Frequently what results is our pet ends up suffering while we linger in indecision. This is the last thing we want for our beloved pets. Our pets need us to be strong and push through the fear of loss and take action. Sometimes, to end a pet's suffering, we must begin our own.
By gaining knowledge about our pet’s signs of suffering, true level of pain, and quality of life, we gain clarity. The decision to euthanize becomes more and more clear the more knowledge we gain. We then feel a little more confident that we are doing the right thing. We are able to take action now that we know the facts and can feel empathy for the pain our pet is experiencing. We have a very valuable opportunity to give our cherished pet the gift of relief from pain and suffering. We feel proud of our strength to provide them relief. They are free of unnecessary pain and suffering. And we are relieved.
With the choice of euthanasia we are able to guarantee our beloved pets the peaceful passing they deserve, and that is the most unselfish act of love that we can offer.
Fecal or Urinary
Severe Weight Loss
More Bad than Good
In some cases euthanasia is indicated when severe aggression is present and human safety is a concern. Some pets, even despite intensive training regimens, continue to display signs of severe aggression and in these cases humane euthanasia is a valid choice.
Signs of Debilitating Arthritis/Pain (very valid, humane reason to euthanize): panting, falling, stumbling, hesitating, biting, tense or flinch with touched, stiff, eliminating in the house, old age weight loss and lack of muscle mass, can’t get up, difficulty laying down, dragging toes, knuckled over, emaciated, laying in urine or feces. Remember, animals are designed to accept and hide their pain. They often don’t show obvious signs of pain like crying/whining/vocalizing even though they are feeling pain.
Signs of Difficulty Breathing: gasping for air, open mouth breathing in cats, can’t sleep fully on side for long periods, wanting to be upright all the time, not laying flat out on side, unable to sleep well, deeply or for long periods, panting, blue tongue, exhausted, coughing, restless, anxious, unsettled, can’t get comfortable.
Not Eating or Drinking: Sometimes with chronic disease processes pets stop eating and/or drinking. In other cases their appetite never changes despite significant suffering. Significant weight loss and/or poor to absent appetite may indicate suffering is present.
Unable to Urinate/Defecate in the Appropriate Place: As pets age it may become more and more difficult for them to get outside to potty. In some cases they are unable to get up, it may be painful to posture to potty; in other cases they may not be able to control urination/defecation and it may leak out uncontrollably. Laying in urine/feces may lead to serious skin infections and pain.
Depressed or Weak: If your pet no longer expresses joy and interest, or fails to respond to family, toys, or other pets they may be depressed or weak. Pets may become depressed and frustrated that they can no longer do the things they enjoy most or those things that they used to be able to do. Pets are often suffering when their mobility is difficult and painful.
When bad days outnumber good days, or when your pet’s list of problems is long, quality of life is too compromised. Euthanasia is a very important opportunity to give our cherished pet the gift of relief from terrible pain and suffering. You have the choice to say goodbye comfortably, peacefully and privately at home.
This is no more than trying to determine how good or bad our pet’s life is at this moment. Trying to assess this can be difficult, but here are some ways you can try and evaluate it. Our pets may not be able to talk to us and tell us how they are doing, but if we pay close attention, there are many clues that can help us answer that question.
The Rule of "Five Good Things": Pick the top five things that your pet loves to do. Write them down. When he or she can no longer do three or more of them, quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.
Good Days vs. Bad: When pets have “good days and bad days,” it can be difficult to see how their condition is progressing over time. Actually tracking the days when your pet is feeling good as well as the days when he or she is not feeling well can be helpful. A check mark for good days and an X for bad days on your calendar can help you determine when a loved one is having more bad days than good.