How to decide “when it’s time”

posted on September 02, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

One of the more common questions we get asked as our pets age, is when to decide when it’s time for humane euthanasia.  First off, I’d like to say there are many right answers to this question.

A number of things are taken into account when looking at quality of life.  You know your pet best-what makes your pet themselves?  Does Fido love playing ball?  Does Fifi lives to eat? Does Spot have to be in the room with you at all times?  If your pet is not able to do these things anymore or is not interested in doing them anymore, it might be time.

Important things to consider are whether the pet is still eating, able to get around, and interacting with the family.  They may be slower than they used to be, and maybe a walk around the block instead of a mile long walk is all they can do, but if they can’t get around on their own this can significantly impact their quality of life.

Nutrition is an important consideration, and if they aren’t eating on their own this can be a major red flag.  Most pets live to eat, and this is often one of the main reasons clients choose to euthanize.  An examination may be recommended to make sure there isn’t an underlying treatable or manageable condition, but if a pet is not eating for more than a couple days this is a concern.

Interactions with family is yet another major point.  Sometimes pets are painful and avoid interactions because they are concerned it will hurt.  Other times there can be cognitive changes that affect the behavior.

Lastly, overall health should be taken into consideration.  Is your pet having accidents and laying in it because they are incontinent or can’t get up?  Is your pet painful from arthritis or other medical issues?  Can they hear and see?  While deafness, blindness, or incontinence are not necessarily a reason to euthanize in themselves, they do contribute to the pet’s overall well being.

Ways to help determine when it’s time include a conversation with your veterinarian.  They may perform an examination and potentially diagnostics to determine the health status of your pet.  Measuring good days vs. bad days can also be very helpful.  A calendar marked with smiley or frown faces or penny jars where you put a penny in for good things (went for walk, ate, made it up the stairs, etc.) vs. bad things (fell, didn’t eat, etc.) can help you visualize and remember looking back.  This is an emotional decision and sometimes the head and heart don’t always agree, so a visual aid can be beneficial.

There is a chart published by Veterinary Practice News that helps give a numerical score to pet’s quality of life as well.  Again, this alone should not be the driving factor to decide, but can help quantify your pet’s quality of life.

If you are wondering if it is time, please contact us so we can have a quality of life discussion with you.  Together we hope to give your pet the best quality of life they can have, and want to help ease their suffering when it’s time.