When is the right time?

"We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan." Fragile Circle by Irving Townsend.

As a general rule it is better to perform euthanasia sooner rather than later as waiting too long involves continued unnecessary suffering. Deciding when the time is right is a very individual and personal decision that only you and your family can make. However you should listen to what your pet is telling you through his/her demeanour and behaviour – and of course to advice from your vet, friends, pet bereavement counsellors and others (e.g. the forums on this website, our open Facebook page or closed private Facebook group).

Some pet carers feel that their pets 'will let them know when the time is right' but this is not the case for everyone. Unfortunately pets do not always tend to communicate clear signals to us that it is the right time, that they are ‘ready to die’. It is therefore our duty to make this judgment by considering questions such as:

  • How much do you think your pet is still enjoying life? Does he/she still seem happy?
  • Is their overall quality of life still acceptable? Factors to consider include: Lizzie's Butterfly
    • Evidence of discomfort
    • Appetite
    • Mobility
    • Urinary/faecal continence
    • Mental capacity/confusion
    • Breathing effort
  • What is the prognosis associated with any illnesses your pet has?
  • Are there treatment options available and if so, how aggressive, invasive or uncomfortable are they likely to be? Is treatment in your pet’s best interest overall or more stressful than the condition itself? While it might extend the duration, will treatment actually diminish, rather than enhance, his/her quality of life?

You should discuss these questions with your veterinary surgeon as much as possible and ask for advice about what signs and stages of illness to look out for. Although not always the case, it is often possible to assess your pet’s quality of life over a period of time and judge whether he/she is having more bad days than good ones. Being well informed about the illness and what to look out for can help you decide in advance on an appropriate end-point that triggers euthanasia thereby minimising the amount of suffering your pet endures – for example, it may be when he/she stops eating for more than one day or can no longer exercise without struggling to breathe. Some pet carers create a list at the start of their pet's illness of the activities that they know he/she enjoys to do; they regularly check in with this list to see how many of these activities their pet is still able to do (remembering that some new pleasures can also develop) and use this as a way to guide decision-making about the right time for euthanasia. Read more about Quality of Life assessment here.

For pets that are ill another important consideration is the cost of any treatment available. If you do not feel able to afford the cost of treatment then it is absolutely right and reasonable that this should be a factor in making the euthanasia decision. Ultimately it is in neither your nor your pet’s interest for treatment to be partially commenced only to be discontinued due to financial constraints and you should try not to feel guilty or judged if cost is a significant factor in your decision.

Essentially the decision to have your pet euthanased should be made with his/her best interests at the forefront of your mind, based on realistic and reasonable expectations of prognosis and what can be medically achieved, and with the one true knowledge that euthanasia in all cases brings peace and relief from pain and suffering to your beloved companion.