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Making Hard Decisions

Assessing Your Pet’s Quality of Life

“How will I know when it’s time to euthanize?”

The decision to euthanize your pet is probably the most difficult decision you will ever make regarding your pet’s care. When a pet’s death is inevitable, euthanasia may provide a compassionate end while giving you control over where, when and how your pet will die. Given your special relationship, your pet may let you know when it’s time to say goodbye.

Quality of Life is the degree of well-being felt by the animal. What makes life worth living for your pet? It can be difficult to switch gears from fighting the disease to ensuring quality of life.

How to define quality of life from the pet’s point of view:

  • Does the pet eat and drink normally?
  • Can the pet go out to the bathroom without assistance?
  • Can the pet move around comfortably without assistance?
  • Is the pet still interested in activities (play, exercise, etc.)
  • Does the pet seem withdrawn?

Keep a record of your pet’s unique characteristics (fetching, playing with other pets, barking at the mailman, etc.). Decide early on which/how many traits can decline before too much quality is lost from the animal’s daily life. This record may also be used to reflect on how changes in the pet’s life affect your daily life as well.

Keep a good day/bad day calendar. Decide what a good day would be life, and also what a bad day would be. Mark the calendar with a 🙂 or a :(. Next, decide how many bad days in a row your pet can have before the pet’s quality of life needs to be considered.

Other Important decisions associated with Euthanasia

  • Decide whether or not to be present during your pet’s euthanasia
  • Determine how you will care for your pet’s body (cremation or home burial)

Also keep in mind that quality of life for you and your family is equally important. It can be physically, emotionally and financially stressful to take care of your sick or injured pet. It is normal to feel guilty when you take your needs into consideration. It is important to be honest with yourself about feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, or resentful in relation to taking care of your pet.

The difference between pain and suffering

Pain is a physical and emotional sensation that can be difficult to assess. Keep in mind that a pet’s reaction to pain is dependent upon the individual personality and the degree of pain the pet is experiencing. The following is a list of signs that the pet is in pain:

  • Trembling/shaking
  • Panting
  • Whining or lack of barking/noise
  • Restlessness
  • Hesitant to be touched in painful area
  • Unusual displays of aggressive behavior

Suffering is more than physical attributes, and involves the ability to enjoy living life. The following is a list of signs that the pet is suffering:

  • The pet is unable to eat/drink by itself
  • The pet is unable to go out to the bathroom by itself
  • The pet is unable to stand/walk comfortably by itself
  • The pet is no longer playful and seems withdraw