How do you know when it’s time?
There is not one perfect moment in time in which to make that ultimate choice (unless the pet is truly suffering, something we are trying to prevent in the first place). Rather, there is a subjective time period in which euthanasia is an appropriate decision to make. This time period could be hours, days, weeks, or even months. Euthanasia is a gift, something that, when used appropriately and timely, prevents further physical suffering for the pet and emotional suffering of the family. Below is a list of some of the most common factors that are taken into consideration when determining quality of life and what roles they play in the difficult decision for euthanasia.
Carnivores like cats and dogs do not have a reason to hide their pain like prey animals do. Instead, they simply lack the emotional attachment to their pain like humans. Yes, they feel discomfort… they simply don’t care about it like we do. With this understanding, it’s important to realize that when pets DO show us outward displays of pain they are suffering. Common signs of pain in cats and dogs: Pacing, excessive panting, hiding in unique areas, not seeking interaction with family, growling, snarling, snapping, immobility, whining, not eating, flinching when touched.
Pets can physiologically survive for many days without food and water, although the lack of appetite or thirst can be a sign that the body has begun shutting down. Also keep in mind that some pets may never lose their desire to eat. In many cases appetite can be a good indication of the internal function (or dysfunction) of the pet.
Many pet owners feel terribly guilty over the natural annoyance they feel when their pet becomes incontinent. This is normal; keep in mind pets do not like to “soil their den” and as a result may experience anxiety which may be visible by increased panting or appearing uncomfortable. If left unkempt incontinence can lead to bed sores and eventually systemic infection in severe cases.
Arthritis and mobility issues are common as our pets’ age. Usually, these signs first become evident at night when the pet begins to pace around the house. It may progress to falling, inability to stand, inability to urinate/defecate, and panting heavily. During the later stages you may find your pet very anxious. As they (usually dogs) begin to understand that they cannot get up and down on their own accord, their natural anxiety level rises as they start to feel like “prey” instead of being the predator. They can no longer protect their family as they once did. When anti-inflammatories and other medications cease to work, quality of life should be a concern.
If you have been an earnest observer of your pet's behavior and attitude during his or her lifetime, you will be the best at determining when they no longer seem "happy." You'll know when they no longer enjoy food, toys, or the environment around them. Most of all, they no longer enjoy or seek out contact with you and the rest of its family. Most pets are tremendously easy to please, so when it no longer becomes possible to raise a purr or a tail-wag, you should be considering what kind of quality of life your pet is experiencing.