Euthanasia Decision MakingEuthanasia Decision Making

Many people wonder how they will know when it’s time to give their dog or cat that one last act of kindness… to let them take that walk over the rainbow bridge.  The decision to humanely euthanize is never an easy conversation to have with your family.  Your pet has always been there for you, greeting you after school or work, warming your lap, licking tears away, sharing the joy of a simple afternoon frolic or stroll.  A veterinarian can help you make the most medically appropriate decision, but we cannot make that final emotional decision for you.Over the many years in the veterinary field, and with having to make this difficult decision for my own pets, here are a few guidelines that can help you come to the right decision for you.


  1. Has your pet be diagnosed with an illness, condition, or disease?

Some illnesses have a very complex nature and are difficult to treat or assess without significant financial and time investment in diagnostics.  Sometimes even if a diagnostic can be done doesn’t always mean it should be done, especially if it doesn’t change the decision-making process or outcome.  For example if a test will help to determine if a condition should be treated with surgery vs medication, and we already know the pet cannot tolerate anesthesia for the surgery, then we will not be further ahead with the knowledge obtained from the diagnostic.  Making it even more complicated are the various treatment or palliation options.  If your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet with an illness, condition, or disease and you still have questions about what it all means, we are happy to provide a second opinion to help explain it in other words.   Can it be helped with medication? Can you afford the treatment?  Will this help prolong their life, and if so, at an acceptable quality of life? Will starting this treatment only make you feel better?

  1. Do you have the means to care for your pet with special needs?

Everyone can find that their situation may change over the years of owning a pet.  When first adopted, the healthy active Labrador retriever was able to get himself up and down the 2 flights of stairs to go eliminate outside.  If he becomes disabled from arthritis or orthopedic conditions and requires assistance, then this may not be possible with people that have back issues or if lifting is dangerous for them.  Or maybe the family is growing/growing up, and as priorities change, pet

disabilities may put significant strain on your ability to care and maintain their quality of life.

  1. Is your pet comfortable?

Being comfortable can mean many different things.  Can they breathe with ease, eat and drink, find a comfortable position in which to rest or are they restless because they have uncontrolled pain?  Do they seem to find your touch painful or bothersome?  These things should act as triggers to you for the next stages in the process of deciding on euthanasia- a discussion with your veterinarian.

  1. Can they still do the things they have always liked to do?

This can range from going on walks to eating their favorite foods.  You should take in to consideration though, that if you have an older dog who, in his younger years liked to go on 3 hours hikes, does not want to do that anymore but still enjoys going on smaller walks and shows no signs of pain or discomfort, does not mean it’s a sign to decide to euthanize.  More so just an aging pet slowing down. You should make a list of 5 things that, in the recent past, your pet really enjoyed.  When your pet can no longer do 3 or more of them, quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.

  1. Is your pet having more good days than bad?

When pets have “good days and bad days” it can be difficult for you see how their condition is progressing over time, as you are with them everyday.  Tracking these days can be helpful in your decision-making process especially if they are having more bad days then good ones.  To do this you could get a calendar and have a check mark for good days (examples; eating drinking well, greeting you at the door, grooming themselves etc) and a X for the not so good days (more trouble getting up, unable to keep food down, not wanting to eat etc).  This could give you a better idea of how many good vs bad they are having.  When the bad days are outweighing the good ones, the decision may be soon.

It will never be an easy decision, but ultimately you need to put your pet’s best interest at heart when deciding the right time to bestow upon them this final act of kindness.