Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Sad chihuahua

The essentials

  • Consider your pet’s quality of life — Analyzing factors like mood and sleep patterns can help you determine whether your pet is experiencing more good days than bad.
  • Talk to your vet about palliative care — If there isn’t a cure for your pet’s condition, ask your vet if they recommend hospice care or another method for making your pet comfortable for the time that’s left.
  • Be honest — Saying goodbye is never easy, but being honest about your pet’s health and your emotions can help you make the necessary decisions.

How to evaluate your pet’s quality of life

Everyone has bad days, but towards the end of your pet’s life journey, the good days may be scarce. A good day may be challenging to define, especially if your pet experiences a slow decline. Evaluating things like energy levels and sleeping hours can help you gauge your pet’s quality of life, which will help you decide how to proceed. Consider factors such as:

  • Do they still play? While they might not romp for hours like they did as a puppy, does your dog still bring you the ball or get occasional random zoomies?
  • Do they seem tired a lot? As dogs age, they become more sedentary and sleep more. However, if sick, they may awaken frequently and still appear tired throughout the day.
  • Are they withdrawn or acting depressed? Animals who aren’t feeling well often seek solitude. However, depending on their personality, they could become clingy instead.
  • How much are they eating? Changes in eating or drinking habits often signify serious illness.
  • Are they losing weight? Illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and kidney disease can cause unexplained weight loss.
  • Have they changed their behavior? Dogs with dementia or severe terminal illnesses may act unusually aggressive towards their owners because of their confusion or pain.

Healthy dogs may occasionally exhibit any of these symptoms. However, if these signs become a chronic part of their lives, you should take your dog to the vet for an evaluation.

Laps of Love offers a free printable checklist that can help you pinpoint your pet’s condition. Their scoring chart includes input for your feelings and decisions to identify your chief concerns.

How to care for an elderly pet

The best thing you can do for your elderly pet is ensure they’re comfortable in all aspects of life. Some ways to do this include:

Pain management

Pain management options for pets include numerous prescription medicines, dietary supplements, diet changes, and certain types of exercise depending on your pet’s health. Depending on your pet’s underlying condition, the actual drug used will vary — they may benefit from an NSAID anti-inflammatory painkiller or something more suited to nerve pain, like gabapentin.

Physical therapy, hydrotherapy, cold laser therapy (using a low-energy laser to help reduce inflammation), or acupuncture may also help relieve your pet’s pain.


Putting mats down on slippery floors to reduce falls, using ramps to help your pet safely climb onto furniture, and raising food and water bowls are some easy ways you can make your home more accessible for older pets. For elderly cats, use litter boxes or trays with a low lip. If your pet experiences vision loss, maintain bright lighting and keep the furniture in the same place so they don’t become confused.

Optimize their diet and appetite

Adequate nutrition is key to maintaining your pet’s body condition. Even if your pet is not doing much activity, being in a disease state generally means they’re suffering from an additional drain on energy and nutrients. This can also include a lack of appetite overall.

There is specialized pet food made specifically for seniors,  or you can add supplements or vitamins for overall senior pet health as toppers to the meals. Work with your vet on a specialized nutrition plan for your pet’s needs. In the meantime, here are a few strategies to help increase your pet’s appetite:

  • Switching to wet food
  • Warming their diet
  • Hand feeding
  • Giving appetite stimulants
  • Eliminating nausea
Woman petting an older golden retriever

Terminal illnesses or conditions that require palliative care

One of the first steps to starting a hospice plan is recognizing whether the pet would benefit from this type of care. Many diseases don’t have a cure, but with the help of a veterinarian and hospice care team, there are ways to keep a pet comfortable. Some of the common medical conditions that result in a pet owner seeking hospice care are:

  • Cancer
  • Incurable organ diseases, such as kidney or liver failure
  • Severe osteoarthritis uncontrolled with medication
  • Progressive neurological conditions or paralysis
  • Senior pets reaching the end of life

When to consider euthanasia

Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you on when the time is right to euthanize. Information from medical tests is often more accurate than what a pet owner can observe, and pet owners usually delay euthanasia in anticipation of grief.

Observing and recording your pet’s daily activities can help you decide. If you observe that moments of discomfort outweigh their capacity to enjoy life, it is time to consider euthanasia. If your pet is in pain, your main goal should be to minimize his suffering.

The goal of euthanasia is both to relieve and prevent suffering; in other words, to maximize the good and minimize the bad. When euthanasia is thought of in this way, there isn’t a strict timeline. It depends on the situation.

Know that if you make an appointment for euthanasia and your pet rebounds, you can always reschedule. But remember the adage that veterinarians specializing in end-of-life caution, “Better a week too early than an hour too late.”

Alternatives to euthanasia

Some potentially fatal medication conditions may be curable, such as certain types of cancers. Unfortunately, though, sometimes there’s nothing left to do, or the solution is financially impractical. Depending on your pet’s situation, you can look into end-of-life care (also called hospice care) to help preserve their quality of life.

Hospice care

Pet hospice care (also known as palliative care) is an option if your pet is suffering from a terminal illness. The goal is to make your pet’s final days or weeks as comfortable as possible using pain medications, dietary strategies, and human interaction.

If you choose palliative care for your pet, you will be your pet’s primary caregiver and work with a veterinarian to make your pet’s last days comfortable and peaceful. The hospice veterinarian will create an individualized plan for your pet and teach you how to provide intensive home care to keep them as comfortable as possible. If you aren’t sure where to start looking for hospice care, consult your primary veterinarian to see if they have any recommendations.

👉 One highly recommended national hospice service is Lap of Love —  they are available in almost every state and provide palliative care, along with in-home euthanasia.

The price for pet hospice care can vary depending on the company and what services you want included. Initial in-home consultation visits and assessments can range from $400 to $1,000, with ongoing communication and additional home visits at an added fee. For the most accurate pricing for your pet’s needs, reach out to the hospice facility of your choice and ask for an estimate.

How to cope with the loss of a pet

Saying goodbye is the most difficult part of pet ownership. Memorializing your pet provides a way to fill the void with something meaningful and positive, such as planting a tree in their honor.

While life won’t be the same without your beloved pet, you’ll find that they never truly leave you. Even after your dog or cat dies, little things will continue to remind you of them for years to come, ensuring they will always be a part of you.

Frequently asked questions

How do I know when it’s time to put my dog down?

Assessing your pet’s overall quality of life gives you the best idea of what to do next. Consider factors such as activity levels or obvious signs of pain. Your veterinarian will also be an invaluable source of advice and support during this time, especially if they’ve known your pet for years and are familiar with their normal behavior.

What to do before putting your pet down?

Although there’s no real way to prepare for goodbye, you can make the last day special for you and your pet. For example, if your pet is still eating, take them out for ice cream or something indulgent that they’ve always wanted to try but couldn’t because it wasn’t good for them. Nothing is off-limits — some pet parents even give their dogs something completely forbidden, like chocolate cake. If your dog enjoys swimming in the lake, you might take them to see the water one last time. Whatever you decide, make it special and enjoyable for you and your pet. It should be a day you can look back on with positive emotions, especially while deep in grief.

How do you get over euthanizing a pet?

Pet parents often feel guilty about euthanizing their pets. After all, we want every last moment with our beloved companions. However, most veterinarians will tell you it’s better to take a chance that they went a day too early than an hour too late. Depending on your pet’s condition, dying can be an incredibly painful experience. Talking to your veterinarian about their physical and mental state can help you realize you made the best choice.

How can you make a dog comfortable at the end of their life?

Talk to your vet about your dog’s prognosis. Palliative care often translates into hospice care, but it can be long-term. For example, if your dog is diagnosed with terminal cancer, they may still have a few months where they can live relatively comfortably even though there isn’t a cure. Hospice or another type of in-home care may be an option in these cases, as well as medication to ease their pain.