Euthanasia and Quality of Life Assessment

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Euthanasia can be a very difficult, emotional, and uncomfortable topic to think about. But when a pet is suffering from a painful or debilitating condition, it is one of the most loving and humane things we can do for them.

In This Article 

What is pet euthanasia?

Euthanasia for pets is a medical procedure that ends their life. Unlike natural death, euthanasia can allow for a quick end to a pet’s suffering.

It’s a painless process, and can be done in a veterinary office or often in-home if you would prefer.

Why pet euthanasia?

As caretakers we make decisions about our pets’ lifestyles, activities, and health, but we sometimes forget that we may need to make end of life decisions down the road. It is a misconception that most pets pass away on their own at home – unfortunately it’s not that simple and often isn’t the case.

Animals are incredibly resilient, so it can take much longer than we realize for them to succumb to illness. By the time a pet passes away at home, they have likely endured prolonged illness, pain, and even suffering. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Euthanasia allows us to minimize a pet’s suffering and give them a quick, painless and more dignified passing – especially once we know that there’s nothing more that can be done medically to treat an illness or improve a pet’s quality of life.

How does euthanasia work for pets

Pet euthansia is a two part process. The first part is a tranquilizing sedative that your vet injects to help relax your pet and avoid any stress while the euthanasia is administered. 

After your pet is sedated, the vet will inject a euthansia solution (which is simply an overdose of anasthetic) that quickly travels through their veins and stops the heart and respiratory system.

How long does euthanasia take

Euthansia is a very quick process. Pets will become unconscious within seconds and they will typically pass away within a few minutes of the euthanasia solution being administered.

Is euthanasia painful for pets?

Because vets administer a sedative prior to euthansia, your pet will be calm and will not feel any pain during the procedure.

There may be some visual side effects where your pet twitches, has muscle spasms, or bodily fluids are released. It’s important to know that your pet is not feeling anything or aware of what is happening; rather these are involuntary functions and a natural part of the body passing on.

What is quality of life for pets?

Quality of life is a term that’s often used in the veterinary world to describe a pet’s overall well-being. It encompasses a variety of physical, mental and behavioral factors that help us get a better sense of whether a pet is happy, declining, in pain or experiencing any degree of suffering.

While pets can’t tell us how they feel, there are typically signs that indicate when a pet’s health and/or quality of life is diminished.

Even when you know that your pet no longer has an optimal quality of life, it can be extremely difficult to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

Performing a quality of life assessment and keeping a daily activity log can be really helpful. These practices allow you to gauge your pet’s health and well-being in a more objective way.

Seek support from your veterinarian when considering pet euthanasia

Speak with your veterinarian and seek support regarding your pet’s end of life discussions. They can answer any questions you have about euthanasia, provide you with additional resources, and talk through the options available to help improve your pet’s quality of life.

Even if you’re not ready to euthanize, your veterinarian can help you come up with a palliative care plan to keep your pet as comfortable as possible.

Euthanizing a pet is one of the most difficult decisions to make, even when you know it’s the right decision. It’s important that you feel informed, empowered, and supported so that you can make the best decision possible for both you and your pet.

Pet quality of life assessment and daily activity chart

Each category below represents one of the factors that make up a pet’s quality of life. Using the scale provided, please rate each category, then add up the total to get your pet’s current quality of life score. Record the scores in the accompanying chart.

  1. Nutrition
    0
    = Pet is eating and drinking normally
    1 = Pet is eating and drinking but less than normal. Requires assistance eating, such as hand feeding, tempting (with toppers, human food or treats) or the use of an appetite stimulant
    2 = Pet isn’t eating at all

  2. Behavior/Sociability
    0
    = Pet is bright, alert, aware of their surroundings and interacts normally with family members and other pets in the household
    1 = Pet is interacting less with family members and/or other pets, acting out of character (ie. normally barks whenever someone is at the door, but has stopped doing so) or has suddenly become more aggressive
    2 = Pet is dull/depressed, minimally responsive to stimuli or unaware of their surroundings; has minimal interaction with family members or pets

  3. Mobility
    0
    = Pet can get around well on their own
    1 = Pet has difficulty getting up, going up and down steps and/or posturing to urinate and/or defecate
    2 = Pet is generally non-ambulatory, needs assistance walking or has pain that isn’t well managed with the use of anti-inflammatory or pain medications

  4. Toileting
    0
    = Pet is urinating and defecating normally
    1 = Pet has irregular bowel movements or urination
    2 = Pet has frequent accidents in the house or is soiling themselves or is not having any bowel movements

  5. Pain
    0
    = Pet is comfortable
    1 = Pet has some discomfort; pet may pant more than usual, be less mobile or have a decreased appetite
    2 = Pet is painful; whines or cries, lays in the same place or is hesitant to go out for walks

  6. Enjoyment
    0
    = Pet still shows interest in their favorite things
    1 = Pet is showing less interest in the things they enjoy
    2 = Pet shows no interest in their favorite things

Scoring

If the total score is 5 or less your pet has a good quality of life.

A score of 6-8 suggests a diminished quality of life. You should speak with your veterinarian about the options available for making your pet more comfortable.

If the total score is 9-12, your pet’s quality of life is significantly compromised. They are likely suffering and it is highly recommended that you speak with your veterinarian about end of life preparations.

Since pets can have “good” and “bad” days, it can be helpful to assess your pet’s quality of life daily over a period of time. Download the chart below to log your pet’s daily quality of life using the indicators above. If you find that your pet is having more bad days than good, it may be time to think about euthanasia and end-of-life care.

You can also download Lap of Love’s Greymuzzle app on your phone for an interactive calendar.

Grieving the loss of a pet after euthanasia

Whether it’s a natural death or a death via euthanasia, the loss of a pet is hearbreaking. After euthanasia, your vet will step out of the room to give you plenty of time and privacy.

Everyone grieves differently and there’s no right or wrong way to do so. Take time to grieve and do what feels natural to you. It can be helpful to do something special to memorialize your pet, write about the good times you had, create a visual or written tribute of them, or plant something in their memory.

Remember that grief is very difficult and to allow yourself the time and space to process this major life change.

Summary of pet euthanasia

As difficult as it may be, in some situations, euthanasia is the quickest and most humane way to end a pet’s suffering. As a pet owner, the choice to euthanize is an incredibly difficult decision, so it’s important to take your time to assess your pet’s quality of life and consult with your veterinarian. If and when the time comes to euthanize your pet, know that they won’t be in any pain during the process. 

Our team at Small Door is here to help guide you through all stages of your pet’s life. Remember that we’re always here if you ever have questions about quality of life, end of life services and the options for your pet.

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