How to Know When It’s Time to Euthanize Your Pet



It’s never an easy decision to choose to say goodbye to your pet forever. Whether it’s because of an illness, injury, or Father Time, saying the words that give the okay to put our pets to sleep will never roll off our tongues.

Perhaps the decision is somewhat easier if your pet is terminally ill, or gravely injured. Perhaps, but not likely. But euthanizing your pet when he’s simply showing signs of old age has to be one of the hardest things to do.

It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, isn’t it? In some ways, we should feel fortunate that many of us aren’t forced with a sudden and abrupt death of a pet. We get to watch them grow old. On the other hand … we have to watch them grow old, and sick, and lame. They continue to live long after they really are living, and so we’re left with a decision: do we give them more time, living like this, or do we say goodbye, and euthanize them?

It’s not an easy decision, but one most pet owners have to make. But how do you know when it’s the right time to euthanize your pet? Here are some guidelines to help you come to your own decision.

  1. Consult your vet. It kind of goes without saying, but your vet will be the best resource you have. Each animal and medical condition is different, so researching information online is not your best bet. One dog with cancer might have a far better chance of survival (and living a healthy life) than another.
  2. Get impartial advice. My sister had a bloodhound, whom she acquired with her husband years ago. During the life of this bloodhound, her husband tragically died in a fire, and this dog was a comforting reminder for my sister. When this bloodhound was nearing the end of his life, my sister grappled with the idea of putting him to sleep. She’d already lost her husband. How could she lose this dog? She did something really smart: she sought advice from people not so emotionally invested. It’s easy to look past the facts (the pain, suffering and quality of life of your pet) when emotions are running the show. By seeking advice (and support) from others, my sister came to the right decision. To send her dog away, peacefully. (Note: your vet is a great source for impartial, and educated, advice).
  3. Create your top 5 list. This one will really put things in perspective. Make a list of the top 5 things your pet loves to do (hiking, walking, chasing the cat, chewing a bone, going for car rides). When your dog can’t do three of those things any longer, his quality of life has greatly diminished. This might be a sign that you need to consider euthanasia.
  4. Track the good and the bad. Your pet will have good days and bad days, all mixed in with one another. In order to get a clearer picture of the progression of his condition over time, track his days in a calendar. Make it simple: X = bad days, and a smiley face = good days. Over the course of a month you might realize that his bad days greatly outnumber his good days.
  5. Dr. Alice Villalobos’s HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale. Vet oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos suggests assessing your pet’s:
  • Hurt (his lack of pain)
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Happiness
  • Hygiene (keeping the pet clean from its own waste)
  • Mobility
  • More good days vs. bad days (see #4)


Track these categories on a scale of 1 – 10 (one being poor, 10 being great). If you can score more than 5 on at least half of these categories, then continuing with supportive care (rather than euthanasia) is acceptable.

Think of them, not of you

I have a friend whose cat had a stroke. For weeks the cat did little more than crawl across the floor. She had no balance and literally fell into her food bowl at feeding time. It was horrific. My friend’s family couldn’t bear to euthanize that cat (Fosse), until their vet nearly pleaded with them.

Fosse’s quality of life was zero, actually zero. The family wasn’t thinking of her, they were thinking of themselves. That’s not to sound harsh, of course. We’re all guilty of it. How can we say goodbye to our loved ones? But if we continue to think of them, before ourselves, we might come to this decision with a better understanding, and less guilt.