Throughout the years, I have had many pet parents ask me “How do I know when it is time?”  This is indeed very difficult.  Just as with people suffering from terminal illnesses, there are good days and bad days.  It is not uncommon for a person to make the decision to let a pet go, only to see their pet have a good day where they eat well, or go outside eagerly, or play with a favorite toy.  Remember that if a pet is terminally ill, it is not wrong to chose a peaceful, planned euthanasia rather than letting them hit rock-bottom, and have to load a suffering pet into the car for an unplanned trip to an emergency facility.  That is probably not the passing that you want to provide for your special friend.  Planning your pet's passing allows you to make the experience whatever you want it to be, whether that means quiet privacy, having friends, family, and other pets present, saying goodbye outdoors, playing special music, or reciting a prayer or poem.  You can make your pet's final moments exactly what you need them to be.

     There is often guilt on the part of owners.  They may wonder if it is truly “time”, or if they are simply overwhelmed with caring for the needs of a sick or aged pet.  Does your pet have a medical condition for which treatment is available, but the treatment is more than you can afford?  Is the time commitment for care more than you can provide?  Are people in your life critical of you for spending “too much” or “too little” on your pet’s care?  Do you feel that maybe you are pursuing treatment that may not be in your pet’s best interest because you cannot bear to say goodbye?  Know that just because a condition CAN be treated, does not mean that it MUST be treated.  Many people faced with terminal illnesses choose of their own free will to suspend treatment, and focus instead on palliative care, to remain as comfortable as possible at the end.  We are fortunate that we have the option of euthanasia for our pets.

     This is not to imply that medical care should not be sought.  I believe in having as much information about a medical condition as possible, so that an informed decision can be made.  Many serious diseases like diabetes, kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and cancer can be managed, if the costs are feasible and the time is available to provide nursing care.  Please remember that only you can make these important decisions for your animal friend.  You know them better than anyone else.  You have to look into your heart, and truly do what is right for all of you.

     Old age is not a disease. Maybe your senior pet has a totally treatable condition like an infected tooth that is causing pain and reluctance to eat, or an overactive thyroid, or overgrown nails making it hard to walk. A thorough medical exam & basic bloodwork do not have to break the bank, and can provide invaluable information. Just because a pet is old, does not mean that medical care is "wasted " on them. Additionally, there are many options available to help older pets remain comfortably at home for longer than ever before.  For example, arthritis is not curable, but pain control may greatly increase quality of life.  Perhaps mobility aids are needed.  You can do an online search for devices like slings, and check out, a local company with a variety of products.  Maybe physical therapy would help. 

     Also, please realize that palliative care (keeping a pet as comfortable as possible without trying to cure a disease) is often a valid choice.  A skilled veterinarian can provide options to help you keep your pet comfortable, minimize pain, and give you as long as possible with your special friend.  That could be your pet's own veterinarian who is familiar with their medical condition, or Dr. Sernik can come into your home for an End-of-Life consult, and work with you on a plan to maximize your pet’s quality of life at the end.  Please see our 'End of Life Care' page for additional information.

     I often tell owners to think of three things that their pet enjoys most: walks, cuddling with you, playing with other pets in the household, a favorite toy, mealtimes, treats, etc.  When your pet no longer enjoys two of those three special things, it may be time to consider euthanasia. Conversely, if there are things that your pet hates, like delivery people or planes flying overhead, and they no longer react to these things, it may indicate a decreased quality of life. 

     There is an excellent article titled "Defining Quality of Life" at - This is a quality of life scale that may help you assess your pet's overall condition. - This site also has information about assessing your pet's quality of life, and this chart that you can print out to keep track of your pet's condition from day to day.
     HonoringtheBond/HowDoIKnowWhen.pdf - Here is another quality of life scale from Ohio State University veterinary school.


* Please note: I DO NOT perform “convenience euthanasias”.  I will only euthanize animals who are suffering from a greatly diminished quality of life, whether due to advanced age or untreatable disease; cases where euthanasia is truly a kindness.  If your pet does not meet these criteria, and you are not able or willing to care for them, then you should contact a local shelter or rescue group.