How to Know When It's Time to Put Your Pet to Sleep (Saying Goodbye Is Hard to Do)

The decision to put your beloved pet to sleep has many factors to consider.
closeup of dog sleeping image by itay uri from

Our pets give us unconditional love and friendship, usually for many years. Unfortunately, at a certain point, we all must face one of the hardest decisions involved with owning a pet -- when to say goodbye. The decision of when to put your pet to sleep, a procedure performed by a veterinarian, is not an easy one, as there are several factors to consider. Depending on your pet's condition, his quality of life must be evaluated to determine if the time has come to humanely euthanize him, releasing him from his pain and sickness.

Step 1

Evaluate your pet's level of pain. If your pet is suffering from a condition with no cure that causes him chronic pain, ask your veterinarian about pain management through the use of narcotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, massage or acupuncture. After administering the medication or treatments for a period of time that should produce results, as recommended by your veterinarian, if you notice that your pet's level of pain seems to have remained the same or worsened, it may be time to put him to sleep.

Step 2

Observe your pet's behavior and energy level. A pet that is extremely lethargic and unable to move, even to take care of his basic needs such as elimination or eating, has an extremely low quality of life. If you have exhausted all of the possible medical solutions to this problem, and no possibility for improvement exists, putting your pet to sleep can stop his unnecessary suffering.

Step 3

Speak to your veterinarian about the cost of treating your pet's condition if he will require constant monitoring and medication. Some treatments may cost thousands of dollars and have little impact on improving your pet's health. If you are financially unable to pay for your pet's chronic care and this care will not prolong his life or improve his quality of life, euthanasia is usually the only option you have.

Step 4

Interact with your pet to evaluate his temperament. Some conditions can cause severe, permanent behavioral changes, resulting in aggression, irritability or confusion, where the pet may no longer recognize you or your family members. If pain management, psychological medications and other treatments make no difference in your pet's behavior, humane euthanasia can end your pet's suffering.

Step 5

Offer your pet food and water. If your pet refuses to eat for more than 24 hours, ask your veterinarian about administering medication or vitamins to boost your pet's appetite. With treatment, if your pet's appetite continues to languish, humane euthanasia will prevent him from starving to death, a prolonged and unpleasant death.

Step 6

Evaluate the level of care your pet will require to maintain his quality of life, especially only a low-quality one. Some terminal conditions such as kidney failure or cancer may require 24-hour care, with the administration of oxygen, intravenous fluids, food and pain medications, along with providing your pet with a way to relieve himself. If you, or your family, are unable to take on such a task, it is time to put your pet to sleep.

Step 7

Contact the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Pet Loss Support program. This program has personnel that can give you advice on whether it is time to consider euthanasia for your pet based on his condition. The personnel also help with the grieving process after the loss of your pet, and they can provide advice on how to explain and deal with the loss for children and other pets.


  • If your pet is taking medication to treat a chronic condition, it can affect his appetite. Speak to your veterinarian if, after starting the medication, your pet refuses to eat or drink; an adjustment to the medication's dosage or a change to a different medication may solve this problem.

  • Don't attempt to euthanize your pet yourself; have a certified veterinarian perform this virtually painless procedure to ensure your pet does not suffer a cruel death. In some states, euthanizing a pet yourself could result in a charge of animal cruelty.


  • Before deciding when to put your pet to sleep, keep a record of his condition, including his energy levels, food intake, pain levels and ability to move about for a few days. This will give you an idea of his quality of life that you can discuss with your veterinarian.

  • Near the end of your pet's life, make him as comfortable as possible, giving him his favorite toys, blanket or bed to snuggle with.

  • Some chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, preclude the use of certain pain medications to manage your pet's pain; if your pet has no options for managing his long-term pain, consider ending his pain through humane euthanasia.

  • Ask your veterinarian if she would come to your home to perform the euthanasia procedure. This may make you and your pet feel more comfortable in the familiar environment instead of the veterinarian's office. Typically, the cost for in-home euthanasia is higher than an in-office procedure, and arrangements must be made with the veterinarian for how to handle your pet's remains.

  • If you are worried about the cost of putting your pet to sleep, call your local animal shelters or rescue groups to ask them about low-cost euthanasia options.


About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

Photo Credits

  • closeup of dog sleeping image by itay uri from