How Do You Know When to Put a Pet Down?

Liz Bales, VMD
Written by:
Published: August 8, 2019

I had the best dog. She saw me through veterinary school, marriage and the birth of my first child. We grew up together. 

But by the time she was 14 years old, Veena was suffering from painful arthritis in her hips and back along with GI problems, and was having difficulty seeing. I had been a veterinarian for years and performed euthanasia for countless clients; however, now it was time for me to face that difficult, heart-wrenching decision.

Like all of my clients, I wished that when things got too hard for her, my dog would pass away painlessly in her sleep. I wanted to be spared the heartache of having to make that choice for her.

Unfortunately, nature did not provide me with this luxury.

When Veena suddenly got much sicker and was in constant pain, I had to make that very personal decision of what was right for my pet. I had to either do my best to help her through an agonizing death or humanely end her suffering by putting her down. 

This type of decision is difficult, and you should talk with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for you and your pet. To help you prepare for when that time comes, here’s what you need to know about putting a pet down.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Euthanize a Pet?

When your pet is suffering, euthanasia is a gift. But how do you know when the right time to say goodbye is? If you do it too soon, you may miss valuable time together. If you do it too late, you may put your pet through unnecessary suffering. 

Here’s what I recommend. Instead of trying to find the “perfect” time, you should make the best decision that you can from a loving place.

For some guidance, you can have an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian about your pet’s health and quality of life. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself and your veterinarian:

  • Is it possible for my pet to recover with a treatment plan that I can commit to both financially and personally?

  • Does my pet have a good quality of life? Are they eating and drinking? Are they able to urinate/defecate? Do they enjoy human interaction?

  • Does my pet have more good days than bad?

If you answer no to one or more of these questions, it may be time to talk about euthanasia with your veterinarian.

The Quality of Life Scale

To make the process easier on pet parents and to reduce the feelings of guilt and confusion, veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos created an HHHHHMM Quality of Life scale. HHHHHMM includes:

  • Hurt

  • Hunger

  • Hydration

  • Hygiene

  • Happiness

  • Mobility

  • More good days than bad

Each factor is scored from 1 to 10 to help you evaluate your pet’s quality of life. You can go over these criteria with your veterinarian to make an informed decision about what’s best for your pet. Dr. Villalobos introduced the Quality of Life scale for dogs, the Quality of Life scale for cats, and the concept of Pawspice to the veterinary field to help provide palliative care to terminally ill pets.

Who Provides Pet Euthanasia Services?

Pet euthanasia can be performed in a variety of locations. Most people are at ease in the trusted hands of their pet’s veterinarian. Alternatively, your local ASPCA/Humane Society may offer low-cost euthanasia options.  

Recently, more and more veterinarians are offering in-home pet euthanasia services. Your pet will be comfortable in their own home, without the stress of the car ride and vet visit. You can also have the time and privacy that you need to deal with the loss of your beloved pet.

How Much Does It Cost to Euthanize a Cat or Dog?

During the emotional experience of losing a pet, the last thing anyone wants to think about is the cost. But the reality is that putting your dog or cat down will cost you something.

The cost of euthanasia varies widely depending on the size of your pet, your location, the services provided and the hospital where the procedure is performed.

Your local animal shelter may be able to perform the procedure for as little as $100. At a full-service veterinary hospital, a euthanasia procedure may cost $500 or more, but this includes additional services like returning your pet’s ashes to you in a special wooden box.

In-home hospice and euthanasia services can cost $400 to $1,000, and sometimes more, but the veterinarian will come to your home so that your pet does not have to go through the stress of travel.

There is no right or wrong decision, and it comes down to how much you are able or willing to spend.

Deciding What’s Right for Your Pet

To best care for your pet at the end of their life, educate yourself about the disease process and how to meet your pet’s unique needs.

Animals often do not show their pain. Your veterinarian can help you recognize the subtle signs of pain in dogs or how to tell if your cat is in pain. They will provide you with the best medications to help maintain a good quality of life for your pet. 

When the time comes to perform the procedure, you can make a cozy place for your pet to lie down that smells like home, and you can be there with her as she takes her final breaths.

For me, I elected to do an in-home euthanasia for Veena. I made her a big fluffy bed of her favorite blankets and held her as my colleague placed the IV catheter and injected the sedation.

Veena’s 70-pound body quickly relaxed, and in a matter of seconds, I guided her into my lap as she lost consciousness. This was followed by a second injection that stopped her heart.

I was able to weep and say goodbye in the privacy of my home. 

I still miss her, but I take comfort in knowing that I gave her a loving, peaceful and painless death.

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