When is the right time to put my pet to sleep?

One of the hardest calls for animal lovers to have to make is when is it time to put your pet down?

Often there is no black and white answer, and often a lot of grey. Some pets are suffering medical conditions where it is not fair on them to keep them alive and that is usually but not always obvious to owners. The more difficult cases are where ageing or specific conditions deteriorate over time, affecting quality of life but not necessarily a pet's ability to live on.

Occasionally a pet will have deteriorating health and will be happy going to bed one night and pass away peacefully during the night. Unfortunately this does not happen very often. Letting nature take its course is rarely much fun for sick pets and owners to endure the last days or weeks of a serious condition.

So when is the right time? Talk to us. We are here to help and we understand.

In the last 23 years I have euthanised 2 of my own dogs, 1 cat, 4 guinea pigs , many chooks and 5 horses of my own when their conditions had deteriorated and I could not provide them with comfortable lives. This is never an easy decision but the alternative is simply worse to let them go on in discomfort that I cannot relieve. I currently have a 20 yr old cat called Waddy who is happy at the moment but has kidney disease and is skinny but he is happy and an active part of the family at the moment. But the time is approaching with his condition when I will have to make the decision on his quality of life.

How can you tell what quality of life a pet has? This is one of the grey bits. I consider the pet's interaction with the family and their surroundings. Many illnesses take away their ability to do the things they used to do which they enjoyed. Arthritis, heart disease, dementia and muscle wastage may prevent animals from playing or being involved in routine activities like play, patting, walks around the garden or to the front gate. Cancer is unfortunately common in animals and is usually very unpleasant well before a pet dies from cancer complications. Kidney or liver disease may lead to reduced appetite which cycles around to weight loss and less energy and less eating. Pain or dysfunction can make it harder or impossible to toilet normally leading to pee or poo accidents which while not painful can be distressing to pets and owners.

Please talk to us about your pet’s outlook and pain levels. We may not tell you whether we think it’s time or not, but we can give you a clear picture of the animal’s health and problems. Sometime I will examine a pet and advise if there are options for pain relief or different combinations of medications to give good quality of life. Sometimes the advice is that in my opinion euthanasia is the only fair option for the pet. This is never an easy conversation but the pet cannot voice its opinion, only give internal and external indicators of their quality of life.

The fact that a pet is still eating is often used by owners as a sign the pet is doing ok. However the will to eat is a survival instinct and many pets in significant discomfort or paralysis will still eat.

In general it's probably NOT time if a pet

  • Can interact and do most of the daily things they used to do before falling ill, like enjoy a pat, walk in the garden, or wiggle happily when spoken to

  • Is able to drink, eat and toilet without significant difficulty

  • Can get up successfully when they want too.

  • Is possibly going to improve in quality of life from where they are now. If their condition is temporary, or manageable through surgery or medication or ticture of time.

These huge decisions are among the biggest decisions some people make in their lives. It is important to try to be strong and look at the situation from both your own point of view and that of your pet. Often the decision is clear in hindsight but that doesn’t help when presented with a decision on the life of a family member.

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The Bloomin Vet  - Veterinary Clinic Greenbank