How will I know when it is the "right time" for euthanasia? This is one of the most frequently asked and difficult to answer questions that I hear. Unfortunately, there is no single answer, as every patient, every person, and every situation is different. Making the decision to euthanize a beloved pet is an extremely personal decision and probably the most difficult one you will ever have to make. No one is in a better position to know your animal than you are. You share the bond that has enabled you to understand one another better than anyone else. Fortunately, while only you can make this heartbreaking decision, there are sources of help. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about the treatment options, possible outcomes, and chances of recovery. If this is an illness with no chance of recovery, ask about palliative options. If desired, we can set up an appointment for either a housecall visit or telephone consultation to discuss the details of your pet's condition and the various options. You should also consult your family (including children), friends, and others involved in your pet's life. Some people may find that websites, animal communicators, and books can be helpful, as well (see Resources page for suggestions).
Some people like to say that "you will know when it's time"' or "your pet will tell you when it's time." In my experience, this is not always the case and it sometimes puts a great deal of stress on you when trying to make this difficult decision. If there is a "look in the eye" or an indication of giving up, that we think we see, it may not be a conscious attitude on their part or an attempt to communicate something to us. It may just be an indication of how tired they have become. Because of most animals' nature, we must assume that the discomfort that we see is much less than the discomfort they really feel. We do have options and it is our obligation to always offer them the best option, whether that is further treatment, palliative/hospice care, or the final gift of rest.
Frequently at the end of a pet's life, there will be ups and downs. One day your pet is doing well, another it is having a very difficult time. Again, while every person and situation is unique, most people would rather end their pet's life a day or two too early, rather than waiting until the last possible minute when they must endure some discomfort. While it may be more difficult to make the decision when your pet is not "suffering" or is having a good day, many find it comforting that when the end is very near, their pet's last day is a good one.
Ultimately, most people find that the most important factor in trying to make this decision is whether or not their animal companion still wants to be alive. Questions to ask yourself (and family):
Does your pet still enjoy eating and other simple pleasures?
Is your pet able to respond to you in a normal way?
Are there significant changes in its behavior (hiding, attention seeking, etc.)?
Is your pet experiencing uncontrollable pain?
Is your pet suffering, even though signs of pain are not evident?
As hard as it is, you also need to consider the financial and emotional cost of continuing to care for your pet, and providing hospice or palliative care. Do not feel guilty if you cannot afford expensive treatment. There are many people who cannot, and it does not make you a 'bad' owner or one who loves their pet any less.
Once you have made the decision to end your pet's suffering, think about the actual process. The exercise of visualizing the death may be helpful.
Where would you like to be? See the place and the time.
Who would you like to be present?
Do you want your pet to leave when having a good day, or when death is more imminent?
What kind of care would you like for the body after death?
How will you and your family grieve and memorialize the pet afterwards?
Imagine as many details as you can. This is where we can help with the process, providing in home hospice or palliative care or euthanasia and body care options. You can find additional help throughout our site and on our Pet Loss and Resources page. Please call or e-mail if you have any questions or would like to set up an appointment.