Posted by: Laurel | June 18, 2012

Pet Euthanasia: How to Come to an Impossible Decision

Consider their quality of life

The Ethics of Euthanasia

Why-and certainly when-do we, as human beings, choose to put our pets ‘to sleep?’   There are many individual instances and situations one must keep in mind when considering such a decision.  There have been rumblings in the media about “death panels’ regarding the euthanasia of human beings, yet when it comes to our pets, this procedure is a given.  For animal lovers, our cherished loved ones are often long-term members of our households who have given us love, joy, and faithfulness over the years.  No matter how or why they were acquired, they become dear to us and deserve care and humane tending.  Especially when in the final chapter of their lives.

As pets age, they require special diets, dental care and ofttimes veterinary care.  Veterinary insurance is a possibility for some families, yet the cost may be prohibitive to others.  When all your resources have been exhausted, however, you may be faced with the decision that no animal lover wants to make-whether or not to end its life.  Over the years, we have developed strong intuitive ties with our animals, thus rendering this decision even more difficult.  Their inability to communicate their aches and pains-their symptoms, more accurately, can make such a choice extremely excruciating.

The Emotional Impact

If you sense your animal is nearing the end of its life, it is time to be proactive. It is a natural response to try and ignore the obvious failing of an aging creature, but this is not helpful to your pet-such avoidance can indeed be harmful and painful to the animal. It can, in fact, be the least loving thing you can do. If, on the other hand, you know of long-term health issues, it is important to watch closely as these conditions progress, staying in contact with your veterinarian. Speaking with your vet as well as other family members can enlighten you to the situation at hand, often one you may be loathe to accept.

Get as much information as possible. Try to override the emotionality of the situation if at all possible and step back to think about a number of considerations:

  1. Assess the quality of life your pet is currently enjoying. Is he able to perform the same activities he was when younger with the same, although limited, capacity? Consider the age of your animal. Is he in, or approaching the ‘Golden Years?’ If so, check for symptoms of old age such as arthritis, hearing loss, diminishing eyesight, and dementia. While none of these symptoms in and of itself constitute reasons to put a dog down, sometimes these conditions can make it terribly difficult for an animal to function without pain and suffering.
  2. Be cautious of your own emotional investment. Talk to others that know of your pet’s condition and listen to their assessment of the situation. Be aware that your tendency may be to hang on to your animal longer than is humane. Try to gain some distance.
  3. Be realistic about your finances. Many procedures are prohibitively expensive and may also put stress on your pet. If X-Rays, blood tests, dialysis and other treatments are available and warranted, be certain that your family can bear the monetary burden.
  4. Prepare yourself for the euthanasia of your pet. Many families do not consider the effects of such loss on children, much less themselves. It is important to talk with your loved ones about the imminent loss of a family member.
  5. Evaluate your preparedness to attend the euthanasia. Some simply cannot cope with the actual procedure, preferring to remain at home or in the car. Remember that this choice is your own. Occasionally veterinarians will come to your home to perform the euthanasia, aware that the pet will most likely be less stressed in familiar surroundings. See if your vet is willing to do this.
  6. If in doubt, do not have the procedure performed. Euthanasia is irreversible, and if you are not certain of the need to put your animal down, then by all means, wait. A day or two is not an unreasonable time to be absolutely sure.

If Euthanasia is Warranted

When it is time to let go of your dear animal, be aware that you will probably grieve. It is a terrible decision to make, but remember that if you love your pet, you must consider his quality of life first. You are certainly going to miss his presence in your life, however, in cases where the animal is suffering, the humane thing to do is let him go gently. Recall the good years and try not to become overwhelmed by the new absence of your pet.

Again, allow yourself to mourn your loss. This creature has been in your life for some time and it may take awhile to get accustomed to the hole he has left behind. One excellent way to tend to our passed loved ones is to bury them or their ashes nearby, or even in our yards. Purchase a marker over the spot so that you will always remember one of the loves of your life.



  1. […] Pet Euthanasia: How to Come to an Impossible Decision( […]

    • Really fascinating take on this issue!
      Thanks for the link-

    • So touching and very, very good.

      • Dear Jack-
        Thank you for coming by to read this difficult article/writing. I’m afraid it’s an all-too common decision we humans must make, yes? It is, as I see it, our duty to those creatures we love.
        I appreciate your comment and hope to see more of you and your writings.

        • Amen…I agree. If God cares for even one sparrow that falls to the ground, how much more does He care for us and we also care for those creatures that He made for us to love.

          • So very ‘logical’, Jack. Lovely and numerous quite inescapable truths!
            By the way, I’ve been to your website and can’t seem to comment, no matter what I try. Not certain what I’m missing, but I did love your piece “Love is a Verb”.
            You take care and God bless,

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