How do I know it is time?

by Dr. Francesca Matthews


You have spent the last few years looking after your pet in its senior years and there is nothing more that can be done. How do you know its the right time?


That is a very hard question and at the end of the day, although a we can advise you of the best course of action, it is only you as the owner that can make the decision.

In veterinary medicine we are lucky to have the option of euthanasia. Not everyone may agree with it, but for those who do, it is an option that many of us are grateful for when we have a old, sick or ailing pet. It is not always the case that the pet is old either.


I have myself been in a situation where my 5 year old Alaskan Malamute was diagnosed with lymphoma in the chest and was put in the situation of having to make a call. With my family, we made the decision for her to let her rest in peace. As painful as that decision was, we knew that her prognosis even with chemotherapy was very poor, and she was not a dog that would cope with needles. 


I have been with other clients with young pets, sometimes even younger than 5 years where I have had to give the news that all was not well and at some stage in the year future decisions would have to be made.





So getting back to the original question, how do you know?


You have to first and foremost take yourself out of the question and think only of your pet. Whatever decision you make must be best for your pet.


Ask yourself - what quality of life do they have?


Things that denote quality of life may include:

  • being able to eat and toilet with relative ease
  • being able to get up and walk around
  • showing interest in their surroundings - this may be getting up when you come home after being absent for a period
  • still wanting to go for a short walk
  • Some clients tell me that they looked into their pet's eyes and all they could see was their pet saying 'help me' and that is when they knew.
  • If your pet stops doing its favourite things and is constantly avoiding people or hiding, this can be a good indicator that all is not well. Animals that live in packs or family groups like dogs and cats will separate from the group when they are very ill and a risk to the group.


If you are ever faced with this decision, it is likely to be one of the hardest you ever have to make in your life and the grief will be intense. But if you can look back and say 'I did the best for my pet', you will feel at peace.



What do you do if you don't believe in euthanasia (of pets)?


We often hope that our pets will go quickly when the time comes and in some cases this does happen, but in other cases illness can be long and protracted.
It is essential that you seek professional advice. It is a legal requirement to abide by the Animal Welfare Act and part of that is to ensure that you adhere to the five freedoms. One very important aspect of this is freedom from pain. If your pet is dying and you want to make a decision to let him or her die naturally, it is essential that they are free from pain. It is difficult to manage this in the way you can with humans when your pet is still at home. For people, there are hospices, but veterinary clinics are not set up in this manner so a pet that requires hospitalisation for pain management would not be able to have you present constantly.


You must also consider your pets quality of life. If your pet has limited or no quality of life, what are the benefits to your pet of allowing them to die naturally. Make sure that if you make this decision, you are doing it for your pet and not for yourself.


Seek a veterinary consultation, preferably at a time when the veterinary clinic is less busy, to discuss the pros and cons of deciding not to choose euthanasia, when the end comes. Our advice may vary depending on the condition, and they will be able to discuss the individual situation your pet is in. This would be in terms of what discomfort or pain your pet is likely to be in, how much longer they might live for and if it is possible to manage your pet's passing in a dignified manner (with appropriate pain relief at home), adhering to the Animal Welfare Act without using euthanasia.


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