Knowing When It's Time to Say Goodbye to Your Dog or Cat

illustration of when to put a pet down
Illustration Of When To Put A Pet Down

Deciding to put your dog or cat to sleep is a difficult choice to make, and there's rarely a clear-cut answer to when the end is near. If your pet is old or ill, you can decide by observing your pet's daily quality of life. By evaluating your pet, you can make compassionate and caring arrangements to minimize the suffering of your four-legged loved one.

Talk to Your Veterinarian

Though it's an intensely personal decision to euthanize a beloved pet due to injury, old age, or disease, talk to your veterinarian for guidance and help to make your final decision. The doctor can explain the medical issues, risks, and facts so you can begin to make an informed decision. Your veterinarian will give you tips on evaluating your dog or cat's quality of life and what that means. In addition, ask your veterinarian to walk you through the steps of euthanasia.

Should You Wait for a Natural Death?

Though it's preferable for your pet to fall asleep and pass away naturally without euthanasia, this type of peaceful death for an animal is rare. A natural death can be a long, painful, and anxiety-provoking process for a dog or cat.

Track Your Pet's Quality of Life

Since your pet can't talk directly to you, it'll be up to you to assess your dog or cat's comfort and happiness. There are different ways to determine if your pet is distressed and to what degree even if you're not a veterinarian. Sometimes the quality of life gradually erodes so it's tough to recognize certain signs unless you've jotted down a few behaviors and impressions. Ask yourself these six key questions every day and keep notes on your observations.

  • Has your pet stopped eating or drinking water (for hydration), especially after vomiting?
  • Is your pet urinating and defecating normally or soiling itself?
  • Is your pet acting odd, disinterested, hostile, or unapproachable?
  • Is your pet experiencing seizures or severe difficulties in breathing?
  • Is it still possible for your pet to easily get up, lie down, sit, or walk around without falling?
  • Does your pet look visibly distressed and in pain?
black and gray speckled dog
black and gray speckled dog
black labrador retriever with blue eyes
black labrador retriever with blue eyes
medium-coat beige dog on grass field
medium-coat beige dog on grass field

It's probably time to seriously consider euthanasia when the bad days begin to outnumber the good ones. Mark bad and good days down on a calendar to keep track of how your pet is doing.

Understand Euthanasia

Familiarize yourself with the process of euthanasia. Knowing what to expect can help lessen your stress and anxiety before you have to make a decision. Your veterinarian can alleviate your fears during this emotional time so you can move on to heal after the decision is made. Ask if you can be present during the process, how long the procedure will take, and your choices for how you'd like to handle your pet's body.

You may not want to be present during euthanasia, or, you may want someone to accompany you during the process. Discuss euthanasia with family members. Sometimes being there during euthanasia will bring closure to a family member who's particularly close to your pet.

Modern and advanced veterinary medicine means your pet may live to a ripe old age, much longer than years ago. Depending on the size and breed of your dog, your pet may live between seven and 16 years of age. The average lifespan of an indoor cat is about 16 years, but it's common to find cats living until 20 years of age. Regardless of what age your pet is put down, after your loss, turn to resources that will help you cope with the grief.