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When Should You Put Your Pet to Sleep?

Avian, By Species, By Topic, Care & Wellness, Cats, Dogs, Exotic

Deciding when to euthanize a beloved pet is one of the most difficult decisions a pet owner has to make. Whether an animal has been suffering from a chronic illness, diagnosed with cancer, or fallen victim to a severe injury, it’s never easy.


Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the question of when is the best time to euthanize. Each pet owner must make that decision for themselves, based on their own values. However, the best time to decide how you’ll make that decision is right now, while your pet is healthy, and you are free from emotions.

The first thing to consider is your pet’s quality of life. What is an acceptable threshold for lack of appetite, lack of mobility, level of pain, or ability to play. At what point do you believe the pet is suffering and no longer enjoys living?

Something else to consider is what is your pet’s quality of life would be like without treatment? Will the quality of life be better or worse with treatment? Unfortunately, you can’t communicate these questions to your pets, so you have to be attentive to your pet’s behavioral clues. Take note of your pet’s current appetite and how much they enjoy food and treats. Pay attention to your pet’s current level of mobility and which activities they enjoy most. Consider how your pet is able to keep itself clean and whether they can urinate or defecate without problems. By setting a benchmark in your mind for your pet’s best quality of life, you will be better able to measure the level of suffering later on.

The financial cost of medical care is another thing to consider, as some treatments can be very expensive. For example, a Great Dane with a gastric torsion (bloat) will require intravenous fluids, surgery, and hospitalization. Statistically, chances of survival after bloat corrective surgery is approximately 50 percent. The cost of treatment can easily exceed $1000, after everything is said and done. For some owners a bill that high is well outside of their budget, and the cost combined with a prognosis that is statistically equivalent to a coin toss, can mean that owners will decide to euthanize. Note your current financial situation. Are you willing to go into debt to save your pet? How much debt is acceptable? Save some money, so that you have something to fall back on in case of an emergency.  Make a pre-set budget plan or set up a care-credit account. If your pet ever requires expensive care, and if you have financial plans in place, you will be less likely to stretch yourself too thin.

Another important consideration is philosophical. An owner should ask themselves, “How much is enough?” Sometimes pets will contract a disease that strikes slowly and instead of rapid changes, owners will observe a gradual and irreversible decline. Good days will be interspersed with bad days, and over time, the number of bad days will slowly increase. When a pet is suffering from a slow disease process, owners often struggle to make the decision to euthanize, because they see hope for more good days in the future.

When dealing with a slow-moving disease, pet owners have a difficult choice to make. Should they wait until there are no more good days left or until the bad days outnumber the good?  How will they know when there are no more good days to come? Should they wait and let nature take its course? Many veterinarians believe that waiting for a natural death is rarely humane. Unlike humans, pets can’t communicate their level of pain and suffering. Many diseases are slow but can be very cruel. An owner’s decision regarding the death of a beloved pet is extremely personal, and no ethical veterinarian will question an owner’s choice in the matter.

Euthanasia is a decision that cannot be reversed, and regardless of how an owner makes a decision, the best time to start thinking about it is now. If you are struggling with a decision about euthanization, please call CEDARCREST Animal Clinic at 540-943-7577 to consult with one of our veterinarians.

CEDARCREST Animal Clinic provides medical and surgical care for every stage of your pet's life including preventive wellness care exams and vaccines, spays/neuters, and a variety of specialized care for your dog, cat, avian, or exotic. We are home to the only veterinarian practitioner in Virginia to be double Boarded in Avian and Canine/Feline care and provide care for birds, small mammals, and reptiles of all sorts! Plus, we are home to Virginia's most exclusive dog boarding resort that includes heated floors, an expansive play area, and even webcams so you can watch your pet while you're away. We're located in Fishersville, Virginia, and serve Augusta County and surrounding areas including Waynesboro, Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Charlottesville. 

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