If you have made the decision that euthanizing your pet is the most humane option for them, the next thing to do is determine when they should be put down. While you will undoubtedly be faced with emotions of sadness, some pet parents also might feel guilty or have a fear of regret. These are natural emotions during this time and common feelings to experience.

As you are trying to manage a roller coaster of emotions, you will likely have a half dozen questions race through your mind. When is it time to euthanize your pet? How do you decide to euthanize your pet? What are the reasons for pet euthanasia? Should you wait to put them to sleep or is now the right time to put them down?

To answer these tough questions and provide you with the reassurance during this difficult time, it is best to focus on your pet’s quality of life. This will help you determine if they are in pain and ultimately if they are happy. We do not want them to suffer and usually if they are not happy they are suffering.

As an initial quality life assessment, you can go through a very simple activity. We recommend doing this together with any family members. You are going to make two lists. On the first list, write down what your pet’s favorite 5-10 things to do when they in good health. For example, some things you can write down are:

  1. Going for a walk.
  2. Playing fetch outside.
  3. Chewing on a favorite bone.
  4. Playing with another family pet.
  5. Going to the dog park.
  6. Seeing a favorite family member.

On the second list, write down your pet’s top 5-10 things they have never liked. Some examples of things you can write down are:

  1. Hearing the doorbell ring.
  2. Seeing the mailman/delivery driver.
  3. Seeing another dog walk by the house.
  4. Being around another family pet.
  5. Hearing a particular noise in the house.
  6. Leaving the house without them.
  7. Seeing another pet or family member get attention.

After you have finished both lists, go through each line item on the lists. Does your pet still like to do all of their most favorite things? They don’t necessarily have to do them with the same intensity, but the main thing to consider is if they still get excited for those things. For example, they do not have to run around the back yard for 10 minutes playing fetch for you to say they still enjoy playing fetch outside. If they get excited when you grab their favorite ball or frisbee and make an effort to fetch it once or twice, they still enjoy that activity.

If your pet still enjoys doing all of their favorite things or at least gets excited for them, that is a very good sign that shows they are happy and not suffering. If they still enjoy doing some of their favorite things but does not get excited for certain things on your list, that is a sign they are still happy but might be in some pain. They are not necessarily suffering, but you should have them examined by a veterinarian who can recommend treatment options. If your pet does not enjoy doing any of the things on your list and no longer show excitement for them, then they might not be happy and they might be suffering.

The first list you made of your pet’s favorite things to do can give you a good indication of their happiness level, but an even more accurate indication of their happiness level and whether they are suffering is the second list you made of things they have never liked. If your pet stops reacting to things they have never liked, that is not a good sign and is a serious sign that they might not be happy and could also potentially be suffering.

For example, if they always used to run to the front door and bark for a few minutes after hearing the doorbell, but they no longer get up or even bark when they hear the doorbell, that means they are probably in pain. It is important to note that when a pet’s health declines, they first lose interest in their favorite things before they stop reacting to things they typically do not like. This progression can give you an indication on their current state.

It is also important to understand that your pet’s appetite is not always the best indication of their physical or mental condition. A pet’s appetite is usually the very last thing to go, meaning they can be in pain, suffering and generally unhappy while still maintaining an appetite. Some pets might actually never stop eating even hours before their death

Lastly, if your pet has stopped eating, drinking or going to the bathroom for a full day, you should always contact a veterinarian. A mobile vet can come to your house to properly assess your pet, diagnose any issues, provide treatment options and also give you a professional opinion on their current condition. There are house call vets who offer quality of life assessments if you are still unsure on whether it is time to euthanize your pet.

Learn more about how to prepare for pet euthanasia.

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