A red Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with sad eyes sits in a field of green grass.

Quality of Life

How Will I Know When it's Time?

When your pet is approaching the end of life, it can be difficult to decide when it is time to help him pass with comfort and dignity. Of course we wish our friends could stay with us forever, but at a certain point we must decide when quality of life outweighs quantity. Some questions to ask yourself and your family when trying to make this difficult decision include:

  1. Is my pet eating and drinking normally?
  2. Is she able to enjoy things she's always taken pleasure in (i.e. chasing a ball, scratching a scratching post, etc.)?
  3. Is he able to control his bowels and bladder and is he able to walk outside to relieve himself?
  4. Does my pet still spend time with the family? Has my pet withdrawn?
  5. Is my pet in pain, discomfort, or distress?

Some obvious signs of pain and distress are crying, whimpering, shaking, and heavy breathing. However, many pets instinctually will not show obvious signs of pain. Some subtle signs to look for include inability to settle or get comfortable, withdrawing from family or hiding, decreased appetite, decreased activity, and changes in personality or aggression.


When assessing an elderly or ailing patient, many veterinarians use this scale as a guide. It can help you to look objectively at your pet's condition.

Each catagory is scored from 1 to 10, with 1 being poor and 10 being excellent. A score over 35 represents acceptable quality of life.

Adequate pain control, including breathing ability, is first and foremost on the scale. Is your pet's pain successfully managed? Is oxygen supplementation necessary?
Is your pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does he require a feeding tube?
Is your pet dehydrated? For pets not drinking enough, use subcutaneous fluids once or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.
Your pet should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after elimination. Avoid pressure sores and keep all wounds clean.
Does your pet express joy and interest? Is she responsive to things around her (family, toys, etc.)? Is your pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can her bed be close to the family activities and not be isolated?
Can your pet get up without assistance? Does he need human or mechanical help (e.g., a cart)? Does your pet feel like going for a walk? Is he having seizures or stumbling? (Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an animal who has limited mobility but is still alert and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as caregivers are committed to helping him.)
When bad days outnumber good days, your pet's quality of life might be compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be aware the end is near. The decision needs to be made if your pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.

For more information on quality of life, euthanasia, pet loss, and grieving we recommend visiting the Argus Institute's website. They have extensive information on this topic presented with care and compassion.