How Do I Know When to Say Goodbye to a Pet?
Pet loss article by Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Deciding if and when to euthanize a terminally ill pet is one of the most agonizing decisions a loving pet owner has to make. In some cases, where a pet is clearly suffering and the body is shutting down, the decision is clear. But in many instances of slow disease progression, the line between acceptable and unacceptable quality of life may be very blurry. The guidance of your veterinarian can be invaluable in this challenging time, but the final determination lies with you. Here are a few tools I use with my clients to help them make a decision:
More Bad Days than Good
Some owners feel as though their pet must be suffering every minute of every day before an unacceptable quality of life is reached, though this is often not the case. It is very ethically acceptable to let a pet go before they reach that advanced a state. Even pets in the end stages of terminal disease can have some days that are better than others; this is a normal part of the process. When the bad days outweigh the good, this may indicate the end is nearing.
The 3/5 Rule
Pick five things your pet loves: walks, bites of turkey, rides in the car, sitting on the windowsill. When your pet is no longer able to enjoy three out of those five things, this can be a sign of an unacceptable quality of life.
The Quality of Life Scale
This is the most quantitative approach to evaluating a pet’s quality of life, and is a tool I like quite a bit because owners can use it repeatedly to track trends over time. The Quality of Life scale, developed by Dr. Alice Villalobos, scores seven different life functions such as appetite, hydration, and mobility to give a numerical score of the pet’s quality of life. There is an online version of this scoring system here.
If you find this decision is confusing and difficult, you are not alone. It is a unique burden of pet ownership to make this difficult decision on behalf of another living being, and no matter when you make the decision it is very common to experience guilt over whether or not you made the right call.
Communicate your fears and concerns with your veterinarian. They are there to advise you. The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (www.aplb.org) offers weekly online chats for those experiencing anticipatory grief to help them talk through this challenging decision making process. Above all else, know that your pet loves you unconditionally and trusts you to do what is in their best interest. Decisions made from a place of love are the right ones.
Jessica Vogelsang, DVM is an author, veterinarian, and owner of the award winning pet-centric website pawcurious.com. Dr. Vogelsang is a regular contributor to multiple online publications on topics related to pet health and the human-animal bond. Dr. Vogelsang is currently practicing as a hospice care specialist with Paws into Grace in San Diego, and has a special interest in helping loving pet owners through the difficult end of life stage.