Making the Decision to Euthanize a Pet

Vet with Sick Cat

Unfortunately, debilitating conditions and chronic health issues caused by aging or illness can minimize a pet’s quality of life to the point where the owner must face the very difficult prospect of considering euthanasia. Aging and illness can also cause chronic health problems that result in serious behavior issues. In very extreme cases, unmanageable behavior may even jeopardize the safety of children or other pets in the home.

How to Know When It’s Time to Euthanize a Pet

What to Consider

  • Your pet’s age and health
  • Possible outcomes after treatment
  • Opinions of family members
  • Financial stress
  • Emotional stress
  • Your pet’s quality of life

Determining whether or not it is time to consider euthanasia is no doubt the most difficult decision a pet owner will ever face. Advances in veterinary medicine have made this more challenging since it seems that there is always one more therapy to try or one more medicine that might help. Even with that, it is very likely that at some point you will be faced with making the next to impossible decision regarding your pet’s end of life. If the time should come, you want to make sure that you’ve done all you can for your beloved family member.

Determining the right time to think about euthanasia is starts with asking a veterinarian to evaluate your pet’s health. As part of the evaluation, many veterinarians use what they refer to as a “Quality of Life Index.”. The index is a guide for evaluating the pet across a number of important criteria. One of the most commonly used indexes is the HHHHHMM Scale. The scale was developed by Dr. Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP. Dr. Villalobos, a renowned veterinary oncologist, created the scale as part of Pawspice, a hospice program for terminally ill pets.

When using the scale, the veterinarian will work with the owner to evaluate the pet on seven criteria: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility and More good days than bad. Each category is rated on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being ideal. A total of more than 35 is considered an acceptable quality of life. (Click here for more on the Quality of Life Index.)

You need to consider these questions:

  • Does your pet still enjoy life?
  • Is he or she experiencing more pain than pleasure?
  • Is it humane to force your pet to endure a difficult illness?
  • Will treatment be worth the additional years your pet may live?
  • Do you have the time and energy to provide the extra care your pet may need?
  • Can you and your family handle the stress, both financially and emotionally, of prolonging your pet’s life.

The vet can share ideas on the medical alternatives and likely outcomes as well as estimate the cost of treatment so you are better prepared to make the decision.

Once you have gathered information on your pet’s condition, medical alternatives, and possible outcomes, you will be able to discuss your options with your family. Even if they don’t support euthanizing your pet, they will better understand the challenges facing you and your pet and be better equipped to handle whatever decision is made. If you have other pets, also consider how they may react.

Recognizing limitations is not a measure of your love for your pet, so you shouldn’t feel guilty. When you’ve wrestled with the issue and made a decision in the best interest of your pet and your family, you can feel confident that you have made the right choice.

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