According to the National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the APPA, 68% of all U.S. households (which is around 85 million families) owns a pet. Since most domestic animals have much shorter lifespans than their human parents do, coping with the death of a pet at some point is practically unavoidable for most people. Worse yet, sometimes it’s the pet parents themselves who have to make the incredibly difficult decision to euthanize their beloved animal companion.
But how do you know when to euthanize a dog, cat or any other pet? If you do it too soon, you may miss valuable time together, but if you wait too long, you may put them through unnecessary pain and suffering. Indeed, knowing when to say goodbye to a pet is one of the hardest parts of pet ownership. If you’re dealing with this difficult decision, here are some questions about the quality of life of your pet to consider before making any decision.
Is Your Pet Suffering from Chronic Pain?
The first and most important question to ask yourself is: is your cat or dog suffering from chronic pain that cannot be controlled with medication? If the answer is “yes”, then it’s time. Of course, you don’t want to second guess yourself here, so a veterinarian’s opinion will be crucial. Your vet will be able to tell you whether your pet is under a lot of pain and if anything can be done to control it. If nothing can be done, and your pet is actively experiencing high levels of pain daily, keeping them alive at this point is morally questionable.
Can They Eat and Drink on Their Own?
If your pet has lost their appetite and cannot eat and/or drink on their own, it may be time to consider euthanasia. To be healthy and happy, animals must get all necessary nutrients as well as hydration on a regular basis. If they cannot eat and drink, either because they don’t want to (no appetite), or because they’re unable to (due to a disease or injury), it’s one of the first end-of-life signs.
If your pet needs to be assisted drinking and eating, make sure you can actually dedicate time and effort to do it, because if you can’t, they will be suffering. But even if you’re able to move their food and water bowl to their bed/resting area several times throughout the day, the basic principle remains – it’s a fundamental requirement for an animal to be well and mobile enough to walk a short distance without distress.
Are They Soiling Themselves?
Most pets not only like to keep themselves clean and neat, they need to do it to be healthy both physically and mentally. Cats especially are known as fastidious groomers – they lick their coats to protect against predators, cool down, keep their wounds clean and finally for fur maintenance and relaxation. While dogs clean themselves less than cats do, they still do it for health and hygiene. So, when a pet – especially a cat – starts soiling themselves, there is something seriously wrong. Of course, accidents happen so one or two times is no reason to act, but when this becomes a regular occurrence, it’s time to talk to your vet. The good news is, there may be some treatment available for your pet – for example, if they suffer from crippling arthritis, a cat may still live quite a long while with medication and a special litter bow (one with low sides). However, if your pet is unable to control their bladder and/or bowels, it’s definitely time to talk about pet euthanasia with your vet.
Can They Stand on Their Own?
We mentioned that for animals being able to move and walk is a basic requirement. If you start noticing that your dog or cat is having a very hard time walking to their water bowl, bed, litter box and other things and areas in the house or yard, it’s time to talk to your vet. If your pet suffers from arthritis or some sort of injury, they may be able to get treatment and/or medication that would help them move and walk easier. However, if there is no treatment available, either due to their old age or an incurable disease, and your pet is unable to walk a short distance without pain, it’s time to seriously think about euthanasia.
Are They Losing Weight?
If your pet is losing weight no matter how much you try to make them eat, you should schedule an appointment with your vet. But before you do that, you can determine your dog’s or cat’s body score yourself to see if they’re dangerously thin or just lean.
- If your pet’s ribs, spine and pelvis are visibly sticking out, they have very little body fat; in other words, they’re dangerously thin. A vet check is needed immediately.
- If their ribs, spine and pelvis can be easily felt, and their waist is distinct when looking from above, they are too skinny. Take your pet to the vet but don’t panic yet.
- If you can feel their ribs and spine but cannot see them, and they have a slight waist when looking from above plus a level belly from the side, they’re at the healthy weight. However, you may still want to talk to your vet if your pet seems to be losing weight for no apparent reason.
Are They Constantly Vomiting?
Speaking of losing weight, is your pet able to keep their food down or do they vomit after almost every meal? If it’s the latter, it’s a cause for concern. Pets who vomit food they ingest cannot get all the necessary nutrients needed for health, including a healthy weight. Vomiting, along with diarrhea, also causes dehydration and any significant weight loss warrants a visit to the vet. Of course, it’s perfectly normal if your cat or dog vomits here and there, especially if they overeat. The problem arises when they do it regularly, after almost every meal. Persistent loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea may be signs that your pet’s organs are shutting down.
Is Their Breathing Chronically Labored?
If your pet has trouble breathing and/or struggles with labored coughing, they are suffering from respiratory distress, which can not only be painful but also traumatizing. If it’s sudden, you’ll want to take them to the vet immediately as they may have a life-threatening but still curable disease or a health problem. If, however, they’ve been struggling with labored breathing for a long time, it’s definitely time to consider euthanasia. This usually happens with very old animals as well as chronically and terminally ill animals.
Have They Lost Interest in Their Favorite Activities?
If your old pet has been losing interest in their favorite activities such as playing fetch, daily walks or jogs, playing with other dogs, or in the case of a cat, playing with balls, other toys and cats, it’s time to talk to your vet. Usually, as animals get older, they stop enjoying the things they once loved to do. For example, a dog that used to love meeting their owner at the door after their work may stop doing it because it’s too painful for them to get out of their bed. A cat that once loved playing with ball-toys may stop doing it because they’re nowhere near agile as they once were. When your pet completely loses interest in things they once loved, what quality of life do they really have?
Do They Seem Depressed?
Pets who’ve lost interest in their favorite things and activities and have stayed in that disinterested and painful state for a long time can also become depressed. If you notice that your pet is no longer eager to do anything, even spend time with you, they may be gently nudging you towards the right decision. Unlike people, pets cannot verbally communicate what is bothering them, but they sure can show it. Usually, in the final steps of their journey, dogs and cats will seem disinterested, lethargic and depressed.
Do They Have More Bad Days Than Good Days?
When evaluating the quality of life of your pet, a simple but good question to ask yourself is: do they have more bad days than the good days? If the answer is yes, you know what to do. If your cat or dog are suffering from chronic pain most days, or they can’t properly walk at least some of the time, can’t or won’t eat and drink and you have to force-feed them, are unable to control their bladder and bowels most of the time… then they’re suffering and are no longer enjoying a good quality of life.
Every animal is different so the questions such as “when is it time to put your dog down”, “when should you euthanize a cat” etc, don’t have clear-cut answers. Instead of torturing yourself with when, how and why questions, talk to your vet. After a thorough examination and a long talk, they should be able to tell you whether your pet should be euthanized now or perhaps later. When the time comes, don’t feel guilty or blame yourself for opting for euthanasia. In most cases, offering a death without suffering is the greatest act of love.