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How do I know when it’s time?

This is probably the number one question I’m asked by clients when we’re having our initial conversations by phone or by email. And the truth is that there is no magic answer, no formula to provide reassurance that you’ve found that perfect moment to let your furry friend go.

I’ve come to believe that there’s often a gut feeling that families have that something has changed. Their previously happy, carefree pet now seems weary, as though burdened and exhausted by the routine of everyday life. Sometimes it’s just a dullness in those eyes that shone brightly only days or weeks ago.

Sometimes it’s the struggle that now comes with each attempt to rise or walk any distance. And sometimes it’s a real sense that an animal has “given up” – that they’ve lost that strong will that, until now, has characterized everything they do.

You may be aware that dogs and cats (and really most animals) have evolved to hide their pain. This makes sense in an evolutionary context because animals that show pain or weakness will be the first to be targeted by predators. Unfortunately for us, this can result in our pets giving us mixed messages, further confusing this impossible end-of-life decision.

Consider the dog who can’t even stand anymore because of severe arthritis pain and dysfunction, but will raise his head and wag his tail when a family member comes into the room. Or the cat who feels so poorly that she can’t even bring herself to eat, but will purr and look lovingly at her owner when they give her a pat.

Do these behaviours mean that they’re still happy and loving life? No. They simply mean that these animals share a strong bond with their family members and their instincts tell them to behave as normally as possible around them. They will put all of their energy into acting like the beloved pet you’ve known all these years, but the truth is that they may still be suffering.

So how do you know when it’s the right time? Often veterinarians will tell families to think of five things your pet really loved to do, and when they can no longer do at least three of those, then their quality of life is a serious concern. This is a good starting point and often a good way to open a conversation about the option of humane euthanasia.

There are also Quality of Life Scales available that can give you a concrete number to help you assess your pet’s condition more objectively (feel free to reach out via our Contact Form for ours).

In the end, one thing that holds true is that it is far more common for families to wait too long for euthanasia than to do it too soon. Families express to me on a near-daily basis that they regret that they waited so long with this pet or with a previous one, but I struggle to think of a case where someone has expressed regret at euthanizing too soon.

Chances are that if you’re reading this post you have a pet in your life who is nearing the end, and maybe you’re feeling a bit lost and alone in making the heartbreaking decision to euthanize. Remember that you know your pet better than anyone, listen to your gut, and if you need outside support then reach out to family, friends, and maybe a caring veterinarian or veterinary staff member to talk things over.

And don’t expect to feel 100% confident in your decision – it’s normal to have doubts, but know that your veterinarian will not euthanize your pet unless it’s absolutely the right thing to do.


  1. Elizabeth

    Good to read this. I do not have an aged pet at the moment, but a while ago had to put down my 12 year old dog. He was happy, healthy, running, eating and I woke up at 3 am to find him rolling on floor in some kind of agony. He was treated immediately at the 24 hr. vet and although he was given strong meds, nothing helped. It must have been a brain aneurysm of sorts. It took 3 days to make the decision. It was painful and difficult because we loved him so much. We now have a 9 month old puppy, very different in personality and it is wonderful to be just getting to the end of crazy puppy stage – which is a joy, but glad when the “dog” peeps through. This was shared by a friend and I felt the need to read.

  2. Tammi & Earl Hill

    Earl and I can not thank you enough for making this very hard decision a little less heart breaking by being able to lay on the floor in our own home with our girl and love her till her last breath. We are so grateful for .

  3. Heather Turner

    We felt you were amazing in 2017 when we were fortunate enough to have you as our vet at the clinic where our pets were patients. The advice and guidance you provided when you diagnosed Daisy’s illness helped us immensely. The compassion you showed when we had to “make the tough decision” made a very difficult time much more bearable. You have a unique gift to offer and it’s wonderful that you have dedicated your career to helping pets and their families navigate the transition together. Mater is now a 14.5 year old border collie, and we’ll be keeping your services in mind. Thank you for what your and your colleagues do.

  4. Jo-Anne Deal

    Our Family would like to send our heartfelt thank you for your kind words of support and care during the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.
    Your sincere compassion, emails, cards have help us with our healing. Your service is unlike any other. To be able to have our girl Jersey be at home surrounded by her family and to be able to lay beside her and give her the all the love she gave us is immeasurable. Thank you for your very kind words to help us through this process. I miss my girl everyday, but knowing that she was in her own bed, in her own home made my heart a tiny bit less heavy.

    Thank you so very much
    May God Bless You

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