Making the Difficult Decision: When is it Time for Humane Euthanasia?

This is the most common question that is asked by pet owners when faced with the prospect of electing humane euthanasia for their pets.

Years ago, we had the pleasure of caring for a senior dog that was well loved but had developed several health issues. This dog took daily medications to help with his lungs and his heart. There were frightening but brief bouts of hospitalization in the beginning- but he always seemed to bounce back. We were all ecstatic when this happened because it meant we had a little more time.

As the months went on, his appetite and energy dwindled to the point where he didn’t enjoy his favorite snack of sliced bananas or his favorite activities. During better days he would do “zoomies” around the house when the doorbell rang but he was no longer able or interested in doing that.

It also became increasingly difficult to give him medications. The family was distraught and called asking for guidance. They were concerned about his quality of life and felt that he was suffering.

When you choose a trusted veterinarian to help care for your pet – we serve as a guide to also help you make the decision that is best for you and your pet. Initially, the family wanted their pet to pass away naturally, but we discussed that “natural death” isn’t necessarily painless and there can be quite an amount of prolonged suffering if this option is elected.

We shared a Quality of Life Questionnaire with the owners and they decided that ultimately there were more “bad days” than “good days” and humane euthanasia was chosen to end the suffering that comes with chronic lung and heart disease.

If you are at this cross road, and you want to know, “Is it time?” Then please take some time to review this helpful tool. If you still aren’t sure, call us and we can help review you pet’s unique health history and offer guidance on whether or not humane euthanasia is needed.

Quality of Life Scale (HHHHHMM Scale)

Using a scale of 0 to 10 (0 = Unacceptable, 10 = Excellent), patients can be quality of life.

Score Criterion
0-10 Hurt—ls the patient in pain, including distress from difficulty in breathing? Can the pet’s pain be successfully managed? Is oxygen necessary?
0-10 Hunger—Is the pet eating enough? Does hand-feeding help? Does the pet require a feeding tube?
0-10 Hydration—Is the pet dehydrated? Are subcutaneous fluids once or twice daily enough to resolve the problem? Are they well tolerated?
0-10 Hygiene—The pet should be kept brushed and clean, particularly after elimination. Does the pet have pressure sores?
0-10 Happiness—Does the pet express joy and interest? Is he responsive to things around him (family, toys, etc)? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored, or afraid? Can the pet’s bed be near the kitchen and moved near family activities to minimize isolation?
0-10 Mobility—Can the pet get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (eg, a cart)? Does she feel like going for a walk? Is she having seizures or stumbling? Note: Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an anima/ with limited mobility may still be alert and responsive, and can have a good quality of life as long as the family is committed to quality care.
0-10 More Good Days than Bad—When bad days outnumber good days, the pet’s suffering is appreciable and quality of life might be too compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond in no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware that the end is near.
Total: A total of > 35 points is acceptable quality of life for pets.
Adapted from Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology: Honoring the Human—Animal Bond, Villalobos A, Kaplan L—Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, with permission.