Knowing when it’s time for euthanasia can be one of the most difficult decisions you will face. Our pets are members of our families and provide us with years of companionship and unconditional love. Rarely is this a clear cut, yes or no decision. There may be a few situations when the decision is obvious, such as when a medical crisis occurs that severely disrupts quality of life, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Some questions to explore when dealing with this decision are:

  • Will more treatment improve quality of life or simply maintain a poor quality of life?
  • Has your pet lost most bodily functions?
  • If he or she can no longer stand or walk or if they are incontinent the quality of life may be suffering.
  • Can you afford treatment?

Is it in your pet’s best interest to extend his or her life or are you extending it for yourself? This point is often the most difficult for most of us to sort out.

This is an emotional time and you may find it difficult to determine if quality of life is suffering. One way to deal with this is to simply keep a log of how your pet is feeling each day. Do they eat, are they interacting with the family, are they enjoying their favorite activities (this may be as simple as laying in a favorite spot in the sun or looking out the window)? Keeping a log makes it easier to determine if there are changes in condition, if there are more good or bad days and also to notice if the balance between good and bad days is tipping one way or the other.

Some signs to look out for and track in your log that can indicate whether your pet is suffering or no longer enjoys a good quality of life include:

Chronic pain that cannot be alleviated with medication or other treatmentRefusal to eatInability to stand on ownIncontinence to the degree that he or she is frequently soiling himselfLoss of interest in favorite activities or loss of interest in attention from the familyChronic labored or difficulty breathing

Dr. Alice Villalobos, a well-known veterinary oncologist and innovator in Pet Hospice has developed the HHHHHMM Quality of Life scale. The 5 H’s and 2 M’s represent Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene, Mobility and More (as in more good days than bad). Dr. Villalobos recommends grading each category on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the poorest quality of life and 10 being the best. If the majority of categories are ranked 5 or above or the total is 35 or more, continuing supportive care is acceptable.

If you are unsure if your pet is suffering, request a euthanasia consult with your veterinarian to evaluate the situation and help you during this time of uncertainty. In home visits are ideal at this time. Your pet will not be stressed with a car ride and negotiating unfamiliar settings, and can be more relaxed in his or her own environment so a better assessment can be made. This will never be an easy decision, but consulting with a veterinarian who specializes in end of life can help you sort through the emotions and evaluate your options more clearly.