When Is the Time Right

This is the most difficult question we face as a pet owner. The day we bring that puppy or kitten home, we welcome in a family member who is now our full responsibility to love and protect. We want to give them the best life we possibly can – and for as long as we can. But, a day will come when our beloved companion will count on us to put aside our very human desire to have them with us forever in order to consider what is best for them. Your veterinarian will help, but the responsibility for this decision is yours. This is the most difficult part of pet ownership, but you know your friend better than anyone else and, with help, you will arrive at the most loving decision.

What Are Some of the Health Signs I Should Consider?


Wild animals try not to show obvious signs of pain or illness. They hide injuries and weaknesses so as not to make themselves the easy target of predators. Our dogs and cats have retained some of these same instinctive behaviors. You will probably be the first one to notice some subtle changes in your pet when he or she begins to experience pain (listed below). Your veterinarian can prescribe good and effective medications for pain relief, but there may unfortunately come a time when the medications are no longer as helpful. Whimpering and crying are obvious signs of pain, but most of our pets will exhibit much less obvious signals.

These are some of the signals you need to look for to spot pain:

  • Restlessness or the inability to get comfortable
  • Listlessness and dullness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Panting without being overheated or exercised
  • Lack of appetite
  • Shivering
  • Finding your pet in unusual places
  • Unwillingness to play or jump as usual

Other Illness

Pain is only one form of suffering. Severe weakness, nausea, difficulty breathing, congestion, and internal fluid accumulation can be signs of various organ system failures. These are conditions that require prompt veterinary care and good follow-up care with your veterinarian. The increasing sophistication of veterinary drugs and medical interventions can add much time and improved quality to your companion’s life.

 Unfortunately, over time, some of these medical conditions may deteriorate to the point where your pet is suffering. When the increase in suffering overcomes a good quality of life, and there are no further medical options, you and your family have arrived at a decision point.

 As difficult as this decision is, it is one made out of a deep love for your pet. The decision to euthanize when no quality of life remains is an act of friendship and selflessness. You are the only one who can make the decision to alleviate suffering and provide your companion with a peaceful and dignified end-of-life.

The Quality of Life Scale

Dr. Alice Villalobos is a veterinarian who runs an animal oncology consultation service in California.  She has developed a quality of life scale that you can use at home to help guide your decisions about your pet’s condition.  Click here to download the scale.  We suggest you use the scale repeatedly over time, keeping track of how your pet scores.

Fill out the form below to receive
the e-book, Saying Good-Bye with Dignity: Coping with a Death of a Pet.

By filling out the form above you give Peaceful Pet Passage permission to email you. You may opt out at any time.