When did you know it was time to euthanize a pet?

I’v never had to deal with this before. Never had pets growing up and in a suburban environment, I never had to deal with animal death…

Anyway, we (the wife and I) have two dogs, one is at least 13 years old (likely older) the other is at least 14 years old (likely older). Both were adopted (13 and 14 years ago). They are medium sized mutts and have been relatively healthy for most of their lives.

Now, however, they are both really having trouble, which is also causing us to start thinking about when euthanasia should occur. So, I wanted to see what others thought on the issue… At what point, or what line has to be crossed when you would euthanize a pet? Is it monetary line, or an inconvenience line?

For us, it’s a quality of life line.

If they do not seem to be enjoying most of their day, and there is no reasonable expectation that with interventions or time they will get better and have significantly improved quality of life, it’s time to euthanize.

That point is hard to recognize though.

My Opinion, YMMV:

I’ve always thought that it was a quality of life issue. If your pet is suffering in a way where their quality of life has severely diminished, where they can’t exist w/o constant pain and where treatments can’t help or heal them past addressing pain as a symptom, then as a pet owner its time. I feel that pets love you unconditionally and that they depend on you to do for them what they can’t do for themselves, even at the end.

Especially at the end.

I agree with the above, but it’s still hard to tell when that is, isn’t it? I think one clue is when you spend more time thinking, “Is it time?” than you do enjoying your pet.

I think that’s a good marker. I also try to ask myself (and see if I can get an honest answer, ha!): Am I keeping him here for his sake, or my sake?

Definitely quality of life. When they are obviously in pain and don’t enjoy doing the things they always loved to do, it’s time.

It’s the part of owning pets that really, really sucks.

My mother’s guideline (another vote here for quality of life for the pet) was, is the animal uncomfortable/in pain more than 50% of the time? Are they still able to enjoy anything at all, even if it’s just a nice afternoon lying in the sunshine? If its day is just suffering, with no real breaks, it is time.
And a warning for cat people: sometimes cats purr for stress relief. Just because the cat is purring doesn’t mean everything is ok, it could be just the opposite.

When she was uncomfortable. My cat Dorothy had lung cancer (*always *lighting up the cigarettes, the *minute *I left for work!). As soon as I noticed she was having difficulty finding a comfortable position to settle down in, even though she was still eating and purring, that was it–the vet came by and did it at home, which was nice of her.

Last time I set a marker. Cats with kidney disease end up crouched by the water bowl looking miserable. When Alex’ drugs could no longer keep him from that it was time.

My thirteen year old cat that I have now is going to be hard. She reacts very badly to treatment and trips to the vet. Two years ago she was successfully treated for a thyroid condition (drugs and surgery). She got very scared of me and hid all the time. Following the operation she took to staying outside all the time and sneaking in to get food so I only saw her every couple of days. She came back in for the first storm of winter and gradually got back to normal. If she gets a serious llness again I’m not putting either of us through that again. I’ve decided.

Thanks for the replies. Our vet isn’t very helpful and seems to avoid the topic. We’ve gone through so many different tests and treatments for both and none have made any sort of impact.

One of the dogs has major incontinence problems, so dealing with that has been rough. But she doesn’t seem to be in pain.

The other has a cancerous growth on the face and seems to be lethargic all the time, rarely moves except to eat and go outside to the bathroom.

Our last dog lived comfortably for a year after being diagnosed with congenital heart failure. We had to fight like hell with her to get her to swallow her daily cocktail of drugs, but apart from that she was still happy and alert. Then her kidneys abruptly failed, and she essentially fell into a stupor. Sub-Q fluids would get her to rally a little bit, but it was clear that her borrowed time was up, and that’s when we made the decision to take her to the vet’s for the last time.

I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this as well. I had to have a very well-loved cat put to sleep a few months age. The decision was “easy” in the sense that she was having an unresolvable crisis, but it was still very hard on me personally. The emergency vet, who I had never even met before, was very kind and patient about guiding me to the decision in a way that made me know I was doing the right thing.

It is not always easy for vets to discuss these things, either. And your vet may have had some poor experiences with owners as well.

It’s all well and good to say “when quality of life diminishes” but some people need something a little more concrete. I’ve always found this to be good advice:
think of your pet’s three favorite things to do when he was healthy. (going for walks, taking a car ride, sitting in the recliner, or whatever). When he cannot do two of them, it is time.

Also I hold with the “better a day too early than a day too late” and the “last good day” philosophies. My pet’s last day should be a “good” day where he or she is comfortable and can enjoy a special treat and lots of attention. If this is not possible, then I waiting too long. The worst of all possible results is waiting for a medical crisis to force your hand.

How unfortunate that your vet isn’t helpful and avoids the topic. My vet was the opposite.

My spouse and I had to make the decision to have his 12yo dog euthanized the end of December. I discussed it with our vet 2 weeks prior to that, when I was visiting with my cat. He said to base our decision on the dog’s quality of life.

Also, I told him that I was afraid that my dog would perk up when we brought her in and didn’t want to be judged by anyone. (gee, that dog doesn’t* look* sick!)
He said that in his experience, approx. 75% of the dogs that are brought in for euthanasia come in with some degree of perkiness/tail wagging. This is due to the dog’s adrenaline rush from the office visit itself. (cats that are sick never act perky.)

I was advised to bring the dog in a carrier, and they took us into an exam room immediately. We were able to exit through a private side door with our dog wrapped in a blanket that they provided. (We buried her at home) The cost was $90.

Do not feel any guilt. Your dogs have lived a long life.

Some people think of pets as just sorta possesions or accessories. Often I think those folks euthanize too soon for convience sake.

At the other end are the folks that love their pets dearly. The types that have tears in their eyes just reading a thread like this.

I suspect the later type if anything usually waits too long to euthanize and almost never euthanizes “too soon”.


There’s no excuse for that. You can’t always tell when a pet is in pain or how much it’s suffering. Sometimes there are obvious signs, but they can also be somewhat subtle. That’s when you need input from your vet, who knows a lot more about these things than you do. He should be able to assess the situation and give you knowledgeable advice on how much your pet is actually suffering. If he can’t/won’t do that, and just keeps doing more and more testing, it’s time to find another vet.

I’ve had to have a fair number of animals euthanized, and each situation was different. For my old, old cat it was when she started staggering when she walked (just from old-cat muscle atrophy and weight loss). She was 22 years old and had been very healthy all her life. I had a younger cat that started to suddenly have multiple health problems, including hyperthyroidism and kidney failure, later in life. We could have kept her alive with assorted interventions but she would never have had a very fulfilling life. For my most beloved little dog it was when she dropped below 4 pounds, then one day had a seizure and fell off the couch.

In none of those cases was it an easy decision, but I felt at peace making it, and one of the reasons was that I had a compassionate and honest vet who gave me his assessment of each animal’s quality of life. I have no patience with doctors who will not discuss end-of-life issues with their clients regardless of species. If your vet is not willing to address your concerns about your pets, you should find another vet who will.

For some reason, many daytime “regular” vets, as we call them, have difficulty dealing with end-of-life issues for their clients’ pets. I think, for some reason, they just don’t deal with euthanasia and how to reach that decision nearly as much as the animal ER staff and veterinarians do. It’s been over a decade since I worked at a regular vet hospital, but I don’t remember more than one or two a week. At the ER, it’s more like three to five a day. My roughest night was 8, and I had to go home and hug my pets and cry after that night.

Anyway, the above is just so you know the context of where I’m coming from. The advice in every post in this thread is spot-on. If you can consolidate what’s been said into a checklist of sorts, it would be very useful, I think. There’s also this link I’ll give you, that describes how to assess quality of life objectively and includes a detailed checklist to help make that assessment.

The fact that the question is even being asked, tells me volumes about what kind of pet owner you are. The best kind. You’re putting your animals ahead of your own feelings for them, and that’s the best thing you can give them. I’m definitely an advocate of “better a day early than a day late,” and of a last “good” day, even if that means a week early, you know? I see an awful lot of “day late” circumstances and I haven’t met anyone but the most terribly selfish people (who dearly love their pet, but come on), who didn’t regret waiting too long. It’s easier for me to see, as a professional, I think, so I don’t make people feel bad for late decisions. It’s one of the hardest things to do, especially objectively. I hope the checklist helps.

Years ago I told our friend that her guide dog, Aster, after she retired, would always have a place in our home as long as she was enjoying life. Aster didn’t do well her last year, spending much of the day sleeping. With cancer in her jaw, the vet was surprised she was still eating. Still she enjoyed her walks and swims although they became shorter and shorter. Finally right after she turned 15, she developed a large, fast growing tumor. She lost interest in walks and eating. I knew it was time.

People have the right to live where they please even if they have a service dog. Service dogs get thrown out of pet free apartments when they can no longer work.

I just wish society would allow humans the same dignity at the end of life like that we do for our pets…