How Do I Know When It’s Time?

Useful tools for assessing Quality of Life for your beloved pet and making end-of-life decisions

What is Quality of Life for a Pet?

You’ve probably heard the sayings “You’ll just know when it’s time” or “When he stops eating” or “When he can’t get up anymore”… These statements can not only be misleading but can lead to prolonged unnecessary suffering as well as decisions made too early.

It is important to base your decision on the whole picture and to take into consideration several key factors. Evaluating your pet in terms of their emotional, physical and social well-being together is much more accurate than relying on one single factor alone.

Physical Wellbeing

  • Are they able to breathe comfortably?
  • Are they eating and drinking well? Or losing weight and becoming dehydrated?
  • Are they able to walk, urinate, defecate, and groom on their own?
  • Are they able to have a restful sleep?
  • Are they engaged with the family and interactive or tired, withdrawn, and hiding?

Social Wellbeing

  • Do they still have the same level of interaction with the family?
  • Is your pet still affectionate and playful?
  • Do they still enjoy relationships with other animals?
  • For outdoor cats, are they still able to go out and explore?
  • For dogs, can they still go to the park or for walks to meet other people and dogs?
  • Another very important consideration is how you as a pet owner are coping with caring for an elderly or terminally ill pet. Caring for a sick pet is hard work and takes its toll physically, emotionally, and financially. How is your quality of life?

Emotional Wellbeing

  • Do they still have a reasonable level of control over their environment?
  • Are they able to enjoy their usual routine?
  • Do they have a good level of mental stimulation and engagement?
  • Are they coping with the stress of ill health well? (such as urine soiling, ability to do stairs, being blind or deaf etc.)
  • Are they experiencing any level of anxiety or distress?
  • Has your pet’s personality changed?
  • Would you say your pet is happy?

3 Simple Ways to Evaluate Your Pet’s Quality of Life


Write a list of the top five things your pet loved to do. When they are no longer able to enjoy the majority of these things, it may be time to discuss in-home pet euthanasia.


Remember how your pet looked and behaved prior to the illness. Sometimes changes are gradual, and therefore hard to notice. Look at photos or videos of your pet from before the illness.


Keep track of good and bad days on your calendar. If the bad days start to outweigh the good, it may be time to discuss euthanasia. Download a useful Quality of Life Calendar

Signs that your pet is no longer enjoying a good quality of life:

  • Your pet is having trouble breathing, experiencing weakness or extreme lethargy
  • Your pet has nausea, frequent vomiting or diarrhoea that cannot be resolved by treatment from a veterinarian and is resulting in weight loss and/or dehydration.
  • Your pet experiences chronic and severe pain that doesn’t go away even with medication
  • Your pet finds it very difficult to walk or cannot get up easily
  • Your pet is refusing to eat or drink
  • Your pet is having trouble urinating or defecating
  • Your pet has had a significant behaviour change and has lost interest in surroundings, family activities or his/her favourite activities

Are you worried your pet is in pain?

An important thing to keep in mind is that animals are incredibly good at hiding any outward sign of pain or suffering. In the wild, showing any signs of distress would be considered a weakness, and therefore it can be quite challenging to know how much pain your pet may be experiencing.

This is why it is so important to have regular veterinary appointments, especially as your pet gets older. There is no better person to ask these difficult questions than your trusted veterinarian.

Make the decision earlier rather than too late

The majority of pet owners who have previously experienced the loss of a pet, will generally make the decision to euthanise their next pet sooner. First time pet owners caring for a terminal pet will often wait until the very last minute to make the difficult decision. They feel guilty about ending their pet’s life too soon, and giving up on their pet.

Afterwards however, most of these owners regret waiting too long and putting their pet through numerous procedures and stressful vet visits that didn’t improve their pets quality of life. The next time they’re faced with the decline of a pet, they tend to make the decision much sooner rather than later.

If you wait until the last minute to say goodbye there is a higher chance that you’ll be racing your pet to the emergency hospital, completely stressed and potentially in a lot of pain. It’s not nice for you or your pet to have to say goodbye in this way.

We have an incredible gift that we can give to animals – and that is to prevent suffering and provide the most peaceful and gentle goodbye possible, including home euthanasia. They can be surrounded by their family, getting hugs and cuddles, eating their favourite food in their own bed when they drift off to sleep.

Our pets deserve the best throughout their life – and that holds true for their final moments.

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