Pet Euthanasia: When Is It Time?

Pearl blessed us with nearly 18 wonderful years.

Recently we discussed the technical aspects of euthanasia (click here to read that post).

How do we know “it’s time” for our pets to be allowed to pass on?


There are times when our pets are acutely injured and it is clear that they will not survive, even with the most aggressive treatment. For example, your dog runs out in front of a car and has such massive injuries that no amount of surgery and medication will make him whole again. Or, perhaps an infectious disease with no cure, such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), has attacked your kitty and begun to shut down his organs.

Sometimes a chronic condition can turn into an acute episode. For example, chronic renal failure can take years to cause death. In the final stages, though, sometimes patients experience vomiting that will not respond to any medication.  That unpleasantness can be avoided, and pet owners will often elect to spare a beloved pet that misery, knowing that the future is both bleak and short.


Many chronic conditions, such as those for which human patients go to nursing homes, can leave a pet owner wondering whether quality-of-life questions mean a pet should be humanely euthanized sooner, rather than later.

Paralysis, for example, in the mid-to-low spine, might allow a pet to live for many, many years. Still, a tremendous amount of nursing care is required for such a pet. He or she will be incontinent, meaning that stool and urine will leave the body with no control over when or where. Absorbent pads can help only so much. Urinary tract infection is a constant problem with paralyzed pets, and pads can predispose them to infection by contaminating genitalia with fecal bacteria.

Arthritis or other pain, such as bone cancer: how much should we withstand? How much can out pet withstand?

The answer, in situations such as these, often comes down to how much can the owner(s) tolerate?

An important consideration is long-term prognosis. Is the condition terminal? If we prolong life, how much time can we “buy?” And, what is the quality of life during that time?


Our Peyton was diagnosed with terminal liver disease and was given a year to live by the internist who performed the ultrasound on his abdomen and found 2/3 of his liver gone. With aggressive treatment, a lot of time administering medication and tons of love, he lasted 2½ years. In his final days he didn’t eat or drink, yet he was conscious right up to his final moments. It is my wife, Brenda’s, philosophy that our pets be allowed to pass on their own whenever possible and if it doesn’t require them to suffer. A family emergency called me out of town on Peyton’s last weekend, so I wasn’t able to be there. Brenda lay beside him on the floor of our laundry room through most of that Saturday night, when he took a deep breath around 11:30 PM, and it was his last. He had peace in death just as he had peace in life.

Contrast that with our Martha’s passing. In her final 30 days, she did not eat a single bite of food. She drank a lot of water, as renal failure patients typically do. And, she continued to drink until seven days before her last day.

Martha continued to be happy right up to her last day. It seemed that she, too, would pass on naturally, completely on her own. In her last month she had done everything she usually did: sleep on my side of the bed, purr when she was petted, bite us when she had enough petting, and follow me around the house like a dog. There was no way I could euthanize a pet that “normal,” even though we knew her future was short.

Then, one night, Martha began to tremble and twitch, as if a seizure might be starting. She wobbled when she walked. Clearly, she was fading rapidly.

It was time.

She sat cooperatively as I gave her a humane departure. We were sad, but content that we had 18 wonderful years with her.

And, that she had blessed us right up to her last moment.

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