When to euthanize your pet


Pets like Cali will never be easy to say goodbye to. The decision to put a friend to sleep can frustrate, confuse and grieve any owner. Yet ultimately, the importance of her happiness and quality of life supersedes the loss.

Carmella Jimenez, Senior Copy Editor

Cali is a Jack Russell terror– I mean terrier– who shredded shoes as a puppy and tore out the squeaker from her plastic hot dog the first day she laid her teeth on it. Yet by the time she turned one year old, we accepted her unconditional companionship, and could not fathom the thought of saying goodbye.

But if that does happen, when would be the best time? How would someone know if she suffers? How would someone decide to euthanize their pet… their friend?

Researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing observed 29 dogs with cancer over six months to study how owners made decisions for their pets’ health during that time alongside the advice of veterinarians. Owners compared their pets’ behavior during chemotherapy to their behavior before the cancer arose. Both owners and veterinarians used these two questions to gauge the seriousness of a dog’s condition: Does the dog seem happy? Does it still like to play?

Owners can normally gauge a pet’s relative happiness or quality of life when they compare their pet’s healthy behaviors to their unhealthy behaviors. The guidance of a veterinarian throughout this process aids in a owner’s decision to put down their pet. Learning about the animal’s condition and level of suffering can lead to comparing a pet’s normal behavior to their current habits. What did they enjoy before their sickness?

Some veterinarians even recommend thinking as if the pet’s pain was his or her own pain. Would he or she want to endure kidney failure or crippling arthritis for another six months?

National Geographic published an article by Marc Silvers about his decision to put his cat, Rosie, to sleep. Rosie lived for 20 long years, eventually refusing to eat or drink when her sickness progressed. In this circumstance, Silvers describes Rosie’s stage as almost giving his family permission to put her to sleep.  

Sometimes the decision does not come so easily. Pets may still struggle to find happiness in their regular lives, while suffering with excruciating pain. Regardless of the pain involved of the premature passing of a pet, their owner ultimately decides whether they should continue suffering. Putting an animal down is not just about the owner’s grief.

Fluffy the dog cannot tell his owner when he loses his will to live. Choosing to say goodbye too early could mean taking away a pet’s chance of survival. Saying goodbye too late could mean prolonged, unnecessary suffering. If an owner cannot afford the financial, emotional or physical cost of caring for a sick pet, sometimes euthanasia–putting the animal to sleep–proves the better option. Owners need to decide with sound reasoning, while acknowledging their own feelings. The same friends– the Calis, Rosies and Fluffys— who licked our wounds, tolerated our shenanigans and shared memories with us can deserve the dignity of a hard, well-informed decision, even when it hurts.