Dogs,  Cats

How to know when it’s time to put your pet down

Having to decide when it’s time to put your pet down is extremely difficult.

I’m gonna be honest right at the beginning, this probably won’t be a standard blog post. Our cat was diagnosed with bone cancer a month ago, which was a bit of a shock. He was only 6 years old and it’s not a common disease. I had to euthanize him, so writing this article is a kind of grief therapy for me. He’s actually the cat in my blog header photo.

cat in the grass - when to put your pet down

There were already a few times when I had to make the extremely hard and painful decision to euthanize our pets. As a pet owner, I know that unless the animal is clearly suffering from a painful condition, it can be hard to recognize those “it’s time” signs.

And because I know exactly what you’re going through, I hope this will help you make your decision. These are my personal guidelines – from a medical point of view as a vet as well as my personal moral code as a pet owner.

What is euthanasia and what happens when you take your pet to be put down?

Euthanasia comes from the Greek “εὐθανασία” which means “good death”. It’s the act of killing an animal in a merciful way. Euthanasia is different from animal slaughter or pest control. There always has to be a medical reason, usually incurable (and especially painful) conditions or diseases. Healthy animals can be euthanized only in exceptional cases, i.e. shelter pets or extremely aggressive dogs.

Vets can use different medical protocols and methods, but they are all designed to cause minimal distress and pain.

My method is to give the pet an initial injection of anesthetics, similar to what we do before the operation, so he will peacefully “fall asleep” and lose consciousness. When the animal is unconscious he gets a second shot that causes death. This way the owners have time to say goodbye and the process is peaceful.

Please talk to your vet about it, I know how scary it is not knowing what will happen. He should explain to you exactly which method he will use and what to expect.

Do pets feel pain when euthanized?

No, the only thing that can sting a bit is the first shot. That’s the injection of anesthetics, so anything else that happens after is not painful, since the animal is unconscious.

So when is the time to euthanize your pet?

Educate yourself about the disease your pet is suffering from, and know what to expect and how you can help. Animals often don’t show signs of pain, you have to learn how to recognize signs of pain in cats or dogs. Talk to your vet about your pet’s medications, palliative care, and prognosis.

One of the hardest things to do is switch from what you want and need to what your pet needs.

To help you with that, here are some important points to consider:

  • Is your pet suffering? Is he in constant pain?
  • Can he breathe normally? Can he (and does he) eat, drink, urinate and defecate?
  • What about hygiene? This is especially important for cats – does she still clean herself? For dogs – can he wait and do his business outside?
  • Does he still have a good quality of life? Is he alert? Does he enjoy human and/or animal interactions? Does he play at least a little bit?
  • Is he mobile? Can he get up without assistance? Can you provide mechanical help (e.g. a cart) when needed? Are you willing to move your pet to a different location and change their position at least every 2 hours?
  • Does he still have more good days than bad days?

If you answer no to one or more of these points, it may be time to talk about euthanasia with your veterinarian.

Very few animals pass away peacefully in their sleep. Personally, I’m very grateful for the option to humanely end an animal’s suffering by putting him down.

Even as a vet I know I made the mistake of waiting too long. Only after did I realize it was because I wanted my pet to be with me a bit longer. As I said, when you are in that situation, it’s very hard to switch from your needs to your pet’s needs.

However, it’s an extremely hard decision. Just don’t forget that it’s all coming from a loving place.

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