Pet Euthanasia: How To Make The Decision As A Family


When we bring home the cuddly ball of fur that is a puppy or kitten, we rarely think about the day—probably years later—when we might be making difficult decisions regarding its care. If there’s one lesson we are all familiar with in life, it's that time flies. Before you know it, your miniature 8-week pet is now 12 years old. 

Sometimes it's inevitable our pets will experience health conditions. Whilst we wish all our pets could pass in their sleep, the unfortunate reality is most of us will rarely witness a natural death. Health conditions arising from aging or illness are common. These decrease our pets' quality of life to the point where we, as owners, have to make responsible choices. If you’re in a position where you and your family have to make the decision surrounding the health of your injured or seriously ill pet, Patch and Purr are here to walk you through the steps of coming to a decision with your family during this difficult time.

How to Make the Decision as a Family

Studies have shown that family members are an essential part of shared decision-making in times where euthanasia may be warranted. As long as you believe everyone in your family unit is of an appropriate age, together you can weigh up all the factors in making the right choice for your pet, yourself and as a family. Sometimes taking care of a sick or injured pet is a team effort, so it's important to get others on board going forward.

The First Step: Discussing with Your Veterinarian

The first step is to contact your vet to evaluate your pet’s health. Once you know the full scope of the condition of your pet, the treatment options, the costs and the emotional aspects taking care of a sick pet requires, will you be able to sit down with your family to make a joint decision.

How Vets Evaluate a Pet's Quality of Life

With your veterinarian, you can discuss your pet's condition, treatment options and the chance for recovery. Not everyone in the family has to be present for this part. We understand it is quite confronting and upsetting, so having a family member who can relay information later on, is more than acceptable. 

Your vet will likely use what's called the “Quality of Life Index” in their evaluation. The index, known as the HHHHHMM Scale was developed by Dr Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP. The criteria use seven points of reference and has a grading system between 1-10, with 10 being ideal.

  1. Hurt, 

  2. Hunger, 

  3. Hydration, 

  4. Hygiene, 

  5. Happiness, 

  6. Mobility and 

  7. More good days than bad.  


A total of more than 35 is deemed to be an acceptable score for your pet to carry on with life during its injury or illness. It's important to be aware that your vet can make your decision for you, they will simply offer guidance and a treatment plan for your pet during this time. 

Questions to Discuss with Your Family About Your Pet:

Even after your veterinarian believes your pet can live comfortably, many pets eventually succumb to their disease. The consequence of this is you eventually begin to notice changes with your pet. As a loving and responsible pet owner, it's important to be aware of these symptoms. If they get to a point where your pet is struggling, it may be time to reconsider your treatment choice and decision of euthanasia. The list of the following questions can be asked initially or through the care of your pet. 

Is Your Pet Happy? 

Your pet's health and happiness should remain number one throughout the course of its life. If your pet isn’t in any severe pain, your family will have time to decide on the treatment path you’d like to take. Remember, this can be altered at any time you and your family see fit. How do you determine your pet's happiness? Usual behaviours like drinking and eating should still be occurring. Whilst not unusual for an ill or injured pet to not eat as much (especially after surgery), it's not normal for pets to skip meals for more than three to four days. If you notice this, we recommend you contact your closest veterinarian.

Can You Financially & Emotionally Look After Your Sick Pet?

Taking care of a sick pet can be financially taxing. You should never feel guilty or ashamed if you cannot afford your pet's treatment. As a family, you can discuss if you have the financial means to keep up with your pets checkups, medications and surgeries they may require. 

There are also emotional aspects of taking care of a sick pet. Long-term care for sick pets and seeing their health decline can be a traumatic experience for family members. If you recognise this within your family, seeking a counsellor to help you and your family members come to terms, grieve and best manage the feelings revolving around your pet's illness can be a tremendous help. 

Ongoing care for a sick pet is also not feasible for someone who has to travel for work. Some illnesses require frequent feedings, so if you and your family aren’t at home for most of the day, it may be beneficial to purchase a timing feeder or employ a pet carer. 


Can Your Pet Take Care of Itself? 

Another question to consider is if your pet can perform the basic activities it requires to take care of itself. Being able to walk around, eat, drink and go to the toilet are all things we take for granted. However, when they are compromised, we realise just how necessary they are when it comes to being able to take care of a pet. 

Not all pets that lose their ability to move around independently are euthanised. IVDD or Intervertebral disc disease is a complication that hounds a lot of smaller, longer dog breeds (think corgis and dachshunds especially), which can injure their spinal cord. However, a lot of dogs can still recover fully if the disease is caught early. Or their lives can be adjusted with the help of hind wheelchairs. If a wheelchair is not an option, you have to consider if you are capable of caring for a disabled pet. 

Consider if Your Pet is in Pain

Some pets can be kept comfortable with chronic pain medication supplied by your vet. You will be able to notice if your pet is in pain by looking out for the following signs: 

  • Your pet has stopped eating, and will only eat if you force-feed.

  • Your pet no longer takes joy in the activities they used to enjoy, like playing with their toys or going for walks with you. 

  • Coughing and struggling to breathe (laboured breathing). 

  • Struggling to walk and stand due to pain. 

How Will I Know When it’s Time to Put My Pet Down?

If you realise your pet is having more bad days than good, it may be time to consider euthanasia. Similarly, if your pet is terminally or critically ill or injured and treatment to manage their condition is not feasible, then euthanasia is also a just and compassionate choice for pet owners to make. 

Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty About Choosing Euthanasia 

If you and your family come to the decision to euthanise your pet, but you are wracked with feelings of guilt, pain and doubt, know that you are not alone. It can feel like you are letting your pet down. It can be an incredibly hard decision to make but know euthanasia is conducted out of compassion and love and is performed for the animal’s wellbeing. 

If you’ve decided on euthanasia, you may wish to discuss the aftercare of your pet with your veterinarian and the caring team at Patch and Purr. When the time is right, you can discuss these options with your family, and choose the appropriate aftercare option that allows you to best celebrate your pet’s life. At each Patch and Purr location, we provide various pet aftercare options. You can be assured there is an option to suit you and your families preferences and requirements.


The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice.


Grief factsheets

If you’re in need of some extra support in the days and weeks following your pet’s passing, take a look at these handy guides written by leading figure in grief and empathy education and author of "When Pets Die: It's Alright To Grieve,"  Doris Zagdanski. 

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