It’s a sad reality that we typically outlive our pets. One of the toughest things about owning a pet is deciding whether to humanely euthanize the pet in the event of chronic or age-related illness. Take time and care over this decision, as it can be devastating to think you euthanized your pet too soon or that you let her suffer too long when there was no hope of recovery. While making this decision, keep the pet's comfort and quality of life foremost in your mind.
Take your pet to a veterinarian. If your pet is suffering from a known condition such as cancer, discuss it with your vet. As well as prescribing pain relief for chronic illness where necessary, your veterinarian can give you a prognosis for your pet and help you consider your choices.
Take any steps you can to make your pet’s environment at home more comfortable. For example, if your dog is blind, move obstacles between his bed and the door to the outside. This will make it easier for him to get outside to relieve himself. If your dog has limited mobility, place newspapers and absorbent pads near his bed in case of accidents. This reduces the stress that comes with regularly cleaning up after a sick or disabled dog. If you have an elderly cat, make sure the litter tray is in an easily accessible place.
Place the pet’s bed or basket downstairs so the pet doesn’t need to climb the stairs. Cover polished floors with rugs so your elderly dog won’t slip. Put ramps over steps where necessary, and guide your dog over potential tripping spots. Once the home is as comfortable as possible, it will be easier to determine how well your pet can cope.
Monitor your pet’s pain. Listen for whining and look for behavioral changes. For example, your pet may refuse to eat or may be reluctant to walk because of pain. Keep in mind that dogs are stoic and rarely whine for no reason. Cats may wail or try to hide if they are seriously ill.
Assess your pet’s quality of life. Monitor the daily behavior of your pet to determine how closely she can respond to her instincts and behave as she normally would. If your pet can’t eat, move about or interact, this shows a significant loss of life quality.
Make a list of benefits and drawbacks concerning the decision. This decision is emotionally charged, so it helps to take a step back and be pragmatic. Besides considering the benefits and drawbacks of euthanasia for your pet, consider the impact on your family. For example, your “benefits” column may include “she’s in pain, not eating, her illness is causing distress to the kids.” The drawbacks may include “she might get better, we can make her comfortable, she’s still young.” Use the list to help you decide the best course of action. If the benefits to your pet of euthanasia greatly outweigh the drawbacks, this may offer some comfort when you make your decision.