Quality of Life

What is the "Right Time"?

When your pet is ill, it is challenging to identify the right time to help your pet die peacefully. This is one of the most difficult decisions you will make for your friend. The responsibility to make this decision is often unwelcome and burdensome. Sometimes the reality of this responsibility comes so suddenly you may be unprepared for it. Not only is your pet special, but the illness and situation is unique and you may feel as if you are not well equipped to make a decision.

As the guardian, owner and caregiver, you provide the love, food, water, shelter, and medical care for your animal. He or she depends on you. You have provided the care they need in order to get to this point of their life. Your animal can also depend on you to do what you can to help them die peacefully with euthanasia. The term euthanasia stems from Greek and means "easy death". Many people have asked me about natural death and they feel that it is preferable to allow nature to take its course. Unfortunately, in my experience, natural death frequently does not equate to peaceful death. Much as we would not allow our beloved pet to remain sick when there is a treatable condition because this is a more 'natural' approach, neither would you choose to prolong your pet’s suffering when a medical euthanasia is available to ease such suffering. In making this decision, it is important to evaluate your pet’s quality of life and their symptoms, signs, and pain. It is helpful to consult a veterinarian for this. Having supportive family and friends to talk to and also be with you during this time can be very helpful.

Quality of Life For Your Pet

As your pet’s caregiver, you want your pet to have the best quality of life possible. You want that time with your pet to be special and if you have the chance to spend more time with her or him, you want to be able to know that your pet is not suffering. Quality of life is defined by a combination of your pet’s physical and mental well-being. The most important factors for you to consider for your pet’s general well being and end-of-life care are listed below.

Pain and Getting Around

Does your pet have difficulty walking around, getting up or down, jumping or going for a walk? Pain doesn’t alway refer to joint pain and getting around. It can also be in other parts of the body and pain can then be expressed with mood changes, not wanting to be petted, tense abdomen and other signs of pain. Is your pet on adequate pain control for their hurt? Even with pain medication, how much relief do they get?


Of course breathing is essential, but observing how your animal is breathing can give you a lot of information. Does you pet have difficulty breathing, is he open-mouth breathing or using his abdomen to breathe in or out? Sometimes animals have to stand to breathe and this is worrisome as well. Breathing problems can abruptly turn into a nightmarish emergency.

Eating and Drinking

Can your pet eat or drink? Their appetite can change or they may not be able to physically eat. Vomiting, diarrhea or both can occur. They might want to eat but be unable to do so without hand feeding or a feeding tube. This decreases his or her quality of life.


If a pet is incontinent they can constantly be soiled and require cleanup around the clock. This causes a great deal of stress to a pet. They might have a tumor that bleeds or pressure sores that can get infected. A cat normally grooms and not observing cleanliness is often a sign of significant decline. This is a serious quality of life issue for which one might consider euthanasia.

Happiness and Sociability

Your pet’s happiness is very important and you can assess this by observing whether they wag their tail, spend time with you and your family, and enjoy your comfort and petting. Not enjoying their usual activities is a sign that they may be suffering or declining.

More Bad Days Than Good Days

Sometimes your pet might cycle with their symptoms and have good days and bad days. Has your pet had more good days than bad?

Your Well-Being

Although this can feel selfish, your personal and your family's well-being is also important to consider. There are times when it becomes important to look at the full picture and assess not only your pet, but also your health, emotional well being, time commitment, family and friends and even finances. You might not be able or willing to provide extreme levels of care that your pet needs to stay alive.

There are a few quality of life scales that have been developed by veterinarians that can aid in your decision making. They take into consideration the above mentioned points and try to provide a scale to "score" the different criteria. This can assist you in assessing your own pet. Please go to the following websites for more details regarding these different quality of life assessments:



Having a veterinarian familiar with this type of assessment can also help when it might be too difficult or confusing to decide on your own. It can be helpful to have a veterinarian make a quality of life assessment. Please contact me if you would like to ask me questions about my visit.

Although this is a difficult and complex decision, I hope this article gives you the confidence to decide how best to care for you pet when you are considering euthanasia.