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The essentials

  • Every pet is unique — Deciding when to consider euthanasia is deeply individual, as each pet and circumstance varies significantly.
  • Your insight matters —  While veterinary guidance is invaluable, the ultimate decision rests with you and is based on your intimate understanding of your pet’s well-being and needs.
  • Consider all aspects — Assessing quality of life includes acknowledging your capacity to provide necessary care and evaluating the three primary aspects of your pet’s well-being.

Pet owners worldwide struggle with figuring out when to put their pets to sleep every single day. So many questions arise when we think about it. Am I too early? Am I too late? What if they have a few more months or years of happiness left? Are they suffering now?

Unfortunately, none of these questions have easy or concrete answers. Deciding when to euthanize a pet is entirely individual. It’s not usually determined by age or even disease. It’s determined by quality of life.

What is quality of life for pets?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines quality of life as “the degree to which a person or group is healthy, comfortable, and able to enjoy the activities of daily living.”

We can apply this definition to our pets, as well. As pet owners, we’re tasked with the health and safety of our pets. This includes determining if they meet those same quality of life standards. You’ll need to ask yourself many questions about your pet and how they are coping with and enjoying life at this moment and overall. Most importantly, you’ll have to answer honestly. This looks a little different for every pet and owner since no two pets or human-animal bonds are the same. That’s why we’ve gathered information here to help make that decision a little more clear for you.

Factors impacting your pet’s quality of life 

Picture a three-legged stool. For the stool to function properly, all three legs must rest on the floor in balance. If one leg is a little too short, the stool wobbles but largely remains useful and strong. Yet, when a leg is much too short, the stool falls.

We can envision your pet’s quality of life similarly, focusing on three primary factors: physical health, mental health, and daily life. Each of these elements contributes equally to your pet’s overall well-being. By carefully assessing these aspects, you can get a comprehensive picture of how your pet is truly feeling. If one or more areas score lower than others, it may indicate a serious issue in your pet’s quality of life.

In this assessment, you will answer questions as follows:

  • Yes, 5 points. Your pet is doing well in this area and you don’t have concerns.
  • No, 1 point. This is a problem area for your pet more than half the days in each week.
  • Sometimes, 3 points. Your pet has occasional difficulties in this area, but less than half the time.
  • Maybe, 2 points. Represents your uncertainty about this area. Consider seeking vet advice to help you determine if this is an area of concern.

We hope to offer a downloadable or interactive tool soon, but for now, use the scoring system to keep track of your pet’s quality of life. Regularly monitoring scores helps you assess your pet’s condition and decide when to seek veterinary advice. A higher score suggests a good quality of life, while a lower score may highlight areas needing attention or care. This assessment aims to empower you as a pet owner, providing a structured way to understand and improve your pet’s well-being. By consistently evaluating these factors, you can make informed decisions to enhance your pet’s overall happiness and health or make the call that it’s time to euthanize.

Woman kissing a dog by a window

Examining your pet’s physical health 

Understanding your pet’s physical health is key to gauging their overall quality of life. Taking a thorough “nose to tail” approach — ideally with your vet’s help — can reveal how your pet is coping with various health issues. While minor concerns, like a small lump that doesn’t interfere with their daily activities might be unimportant, more serious symptoms like persistent coughing due to heart disease can greatly affect their well-being. Let’s take a look into some questions to help you evaluate your pet’s physical health:

  • Pain management. Is your pet free from pain most of the time? Consider signs such as limping, excessive panting, or changes in posture. Lashing out or snapping at you can also be signs of pain. Pacing, whining, and refusing to jump up on the couch with you may indicate pain, as well.
  • Appetite. Is your pet eating a normal amount of food regularly? Think about changes in eating habits, like reluctance to eat or significant weight changes. Increased hunger can also be a factor in some health conditions.
  • Hydration. Is your pet drinking enough water daily? Signs to watch for include reduced water intake or signs of dehydration like dry gums, sunken eyes, and tenting of the skin. On the other hand, are they drinking more than normal? Excessive thirst can point to health concerns.
  • Mobility. Can your pet move around easily and comfortably? Consider their ability to walk, climb stairs, or get up without help. Think about if they’re taking longer to fetch toys or refusing to get one from under the couch like before.
  • Hygiene and grooming. Is your pet able to maintain personal hygiene? Look at their coat condition and any changes in grooming behavior. Is your cat’s coat oily or beginning to mat? Does your dog no longer meticulously clean their feet after going outside? These changes can indicate problems in your pet’s physical health as well.

Assessing your pet’s mental health 

Good mental health is necessary for your pet’s overall happiness and engagement with their surroundings. Just like humans, pets can experience stress, anxiety, and depression, which can impact their daily life and interactions. Observing changes in your pet’s behavior, mood, and how they engage with you and their environment can provide insight into their mental well-being. It’s important to understand that maintaining your pet’s mental health not only contributes to their joy but also helps them cope with any physical health challenges they might encounter. Let’s explore some questions to help you evaluate your pet’s mental health:

  • Interest and engagement. Does your pet show interest in their surroundings and activities?
    Consider their responsiveness to playtime, toys, and interaction with family. Also, consider how their reactions have changed over time.
  • Emotional well-being. Is your pet generally in a good mood? Look for signs of depression or anxiety like excessive barking, withdrawal, or unusual aggression. Consider pacing, restlessness, or new separation anxiety. Look for changes in their body language.
  • Cognitive function. Is your pet alert and showing no signs of confusion? Monitor for changes like getting lost in familiar places or trouble following commands. Some dogs experience canine dementia with Alzheimer-like symptoms such as not recognizing familiar people, showing fear in rooms or places they once loved, or an increase in aggressive behavior.
  • Stress levels. Is your pet managing stress well, without excessive fear or anxiety? Consider reactions to new environments, loud noises, or unfamiliar people. Were they the life of the party before but now they retreat when company arrives?
  • Sleep patterns. Is your pet sleeping well through the night? Note any changes in sleep duration, restlessness, or nighttime activity. Consider health problems that prevent restful sleep like coughing or bed-wetting.
Pug sleeping on an arm chair

Evaluating your pet’s day-to-day life 

Assessing your pet’s daily life involves looking at how they engage in and enjoy their routine activities. This includes their playtime, exercise, and interactions with family members and other pets. Observing these everyday behaviors can give you a clearer picture of their overall comfort and happiness. Let’s consider some key aspects of your pet’s day-to-day life:

Daily activities. Is your pet able to engage in and enjoy their normal daily activities? Think about their willingness to play, exercise, and participate in family activities. A sudden lack of interest or reduced activity level can indicate discomfort or a decline in their overall health. Is your once active dog now reluctant to go on walks or does your cat spend most of the day hiding rather than exploring?

Routine comfort. Is your pet comfortable with their daily routines, such as feeding and bathroom habits? Observe any changes in their usual routine or if they show signs of discomfort. For example, has your pet started avoiding their food or water bowl? Are they hesitant to go outside for bathroom breaks? Did your cat suddenly start peeing outside the box? Changes in these habits can indicate underlying health issues or discomfort.

Interaction with others. Does your pet interact well with family members and other pets? Consider their behavior towards household members and other pets, looking for any changes in interaction patterns. Is your pet more withdrawn or showing aggression towards others? Such changes can be a sign of stress, pain, or emotional distress.

Adaptability. Is your pet able to adapt to minor changes in their environment or routine without significant distress? Evaluate their reaction to small changes, like a new piece of furniture or a change in their feeding schedule. Pets that struggle with adaptation might show signs of anxiety or behavioral changes when faced with new situations. Does your pet become anxious or behave unusually when there’s a slight shift in routine, such as a new visitor or a change in daily walk time?

Enjoyment of life. Does your pet have more good days than bad? Reflect on the overall balance of positive versus negative experiences in your pet’s life. Are there more days filled with enjoyment, activity, and engagement, or are there frequent signs of distress or discomfort? Consistently noticing more bad days can be a critical indicator of issues affecting your pet’s quality of life.

We asked Dr. Irish to tell us more about a balanced quality of life. She said, “sometimes, it’s hard to see how everything fits together. For example, a dog unable to use their back legs may become severely depressed when they can’t chase their favorite toy anymore. But another dog with the same problem could still be happy if their owner provides lots of mental stimulation like pulling it around in a wagon to see all their friends. This shows that there isn’t always a clear answer when it comes to what makes life good, especially when deciding if it’s time to think about euthanasia.”

How to read your pet’s quality of life score

  • 45–75 Points. Your pet’s quality of life appears to be good. They seem to be doing well overall, enjoying their daily activities, and experiencing comfort and happiness. Continue to monitor and maintain their health and well-being with regular vet check-ups and attention to their needs. Keep up the good work in providing a nurturing environment.
  • 30–44 Points. Your pet’s quality of life has some areas that may need attention. This score suggests that there might be specific issues impacting their well-being. It’s a good idea to discuss these concerns with your vet to determine if there are steps you can take to improve your pet’s comfort and health. Early intervention can make a significant difference in their quality of life.
  • Below 30 Points. Your pet’s quality of life is a cause for concern. This score indicates that your pet may be experiencing significant discomfort or distress. It’s important to talk to your vet as soon as possible to explore options for improving their comfort and happiness. Your vet can help you understand the underlying issues and guide you towards the best course of action to support your pet’s well-being.

This quality of life assessment provides a thorough way to evaluate your pet’s well-being across vital areas. Regularly assessing these aspects can help you ensure that your pet lives a comfortable, happy, and fulfilling life. Consider reassessing their quality of life every month or even weekly, especially if you notice any changes. This consistent evaluation will help you catch significant changes early and assist in making informed decisions about your pet’s care, including the difficult choice of when it might be time to let go.

👉 Sometimes you’ll need a little more guidance to answer questions. Here are some links that can help:

Girl hugging dog on a road

Take a holistic approach to quality of life 

When considering your pet’s quality of life, it’s crucial to view it as a whole rather than just isolated issues. Physical health, mental well-being, and daily activities are all interconnected. For example, pain or illness can affect your pet’s mood and their ability to enjoy daily activities, just as anxiety or depression can influence their physical health and willingness to engage in routine behaviors. To ensure a balanced and fulfilling life for your pet, it’s important to regularly assess and address each of these areas.

Achieving and maintaining this balance often requires ongoing attention and, at times, additional support such as medication or therapy. Your vet can help you assess each area and find ways to help. But you can also take some steps to help at home.

If your pet has a hard time getting onto the couch, consider adding pet steps. Perhaps your cat loves lying on top of the bookshelf, but they can’t quite make the jump anymore. Consider getting a tall cat tree and placing it next to the shelf so they can climb up a bit at a time. Does your dog slip on the floor? Learn how to help them keep their feet from sliding. Many products out there are designed to help senior and disabled pets have an easier time getting around and enjoying life — you just have to look!

What are the next steps?

As you consider your pet’s quality of life, it’s also essential to reflect on your own situation, priorities, and the needs of your household. Caring for a pet with significant health issues can be challenging and emotional. Here are some important questions to guide you through this process:

  • Ability to provide specialized care. Can you meet the demands of your pet’s care needs? Consider whether you have the time, resources (including money), and knowledge to provide the necessary care. This also includes administering medication or helping with mobility.
  • Coping and concern for self/family members. How is your family coping with your pet’s challenges? Consider the emotional impact on everyone, including children. Regular discussions can uncover insights into your pet’s well-being you might miss, helping assess their quality of life more fully.
  • Impact on other pets. How is your pet’s condition affecting other animals in the home? Think about changes in dynamics, behavior, and stress among your other pets.
  • Ethical considerations of euthanasia. Are you contemplating whether euthanasia is the right decision for your pet? It’s a deeply personal choice that involves balancing your pet’s suffering and quality of life against your desire to keep them with you.

These questions highlight personal and sensitive considerations that can help you make informed and compassionate decisions about your pet’s care. There are no right or wrong answers here. Be honest with yourself and take time to consider each question thoroughly. Remember there are resources available to you during this time. Consider contacting the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement to get access to pet loss support groups including chat rooms, video groups, and in-person meetings.

🌈 If you’ve recently lost a pet or are considering euthanasia, we at betterpet express our sincerest condolences. We understand the choice is never an easy one to make. We wish you peace and healing. We hope these articles may be of some comfort and help you during this difficult time:

Sculpture of a Dog with Wings

Navigating the decision: Ensuring quality of life for your beloved pet

The process of deciding when to let go of a beloved pet is deeply personal and emotional. While veterinary guidance provides insight into your pet’s health, the ultimate decision rests with you. Each pet’s journey is unique, influenced by factors such as their physical health, mental well-being, and daily interactions. Assessing your pet’s quality of life involves evaluating these factors closely and honestly. This comprehensive survey of your pet’s well-being ensures you consider all aspects and helps you identify problem areas.

It’s worthwhile to discuss your assessment findings openly with your vet. They can guide you in managing your pet’s health and offer support during difficult decisions. Engaging with your family members is also important because they can offer valuable insight into your pet’s behavior and needs.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with deciding on euthanasia based on a poor quality of life. It’s a compassionate choice made out of love and consideration for your pet’s comfort and happiness. Seek solace in the resources available to you, to navigate this emotional journey with care and understanding.

By remaining attentive to your pet’s changing needs and embracing a holistic approach to their well-being, you empower yourself to make informed decisions that prioritize their quality of life. Cherish the moments you have together and trust in the bonds of love and companionship that define your relationship with your pet.

Frequently asked questions

What is done during a quality of life assessment?

A quality of life assessment typically evaluates your pet’s physical health, mental well-being, and daily activities. It involves observing behaviors, monitoring health indicators, and considering overall happiness and comfort.

How to assess a pet’s quality of life?

Assessing your pet’s quality of life involves considering factors like pain management, appetite, hydration, mobility, mental health, and daily routines. Regularly evaluating these areas helps in understanding your pet’s well-being.

What is a quality of life assessment for a cat?

Just like dogs, a quality of life assessment for a cat focuses on their physical health, mental well-being, and daily activities.

How do I make a quality of life decision for my dog?

Making a quality of life decision for your dog involves assessing their overall health, behavior changes, and enjoyment of daily activities. Discussing with your vet can provide guidance on managing health conditions and understanding when euthanasia might be a compassionate choice. Ultimately, you will have to combine all these factors to make an informed decision.

What does it mean when a vet says quality of life?

When a vet discusses quality of life, they are referring to how well your pet can enjoy daily activities, remain comfortable, and cope with any health challenges they may have. It’s a holistic assessment that considers physical health, mental well-being, and environmental factors.