In our culture, many pets are euthanized, or “put down”, when they begin to age or show signs of terminal illness. The process of euthanizing a pet is so commonplace in the United States that it is one of the most common ultimate causes of death among cats and dogs. The decision to euthanize a pet is a deeply personal and emotional decision, so it should not be made lightly or without careful consideration. These guidelines can help you to determine whether or not euthanasia is the proper route for your pet.

Determining When To Euthanize A Pet: Is This For You, Or For Your Pet?

Many people are very uncomfortable with death itself, and the idea of watching a loved one– animal or pet– pass away is extremely painful. However, given the common nature of animal euthanasia, it is worth asking ourselves: who is the procedure really for? Many pet owners have their aging pets put down because they want to be in control of the death process, when a slower, more natural death may be the more humane option. Life is still life, up to and including the twilight years.

When we decide to put a dog or cat to sleep, we do it with the assumption that, given the choice, our pet would make the same decision: that is, suicide. As we would in the case of human euthanasia, we owe it to our animals to prolong their lives if life is still at all rewarding to them. Euthanasia should be reserved for times of severe pain or illness– not used as a default option whenever an animal is uncomfortable, aging, or sick.

Determining When To Euthanize A Pet: Is There Any Other Option?

If your pet has a treatable illness within your budget to address, there is no reason to resort to euthanasia instead of pursuing a reasonable treatment route. Some illnesses, like most forms of cancer, are prohibitively difficult or expensive to pursue, while others, like arthitis, are quite treatable. If medicines, dietary changes, or lifestyle adjustments can address your pet’s problem, there is no reason to put him to sleep.

While the decision to euthanize a pet is not nearly as serious as the hypothetical decision to euthanize a family member, it should carry a similar gravity. Would you choose to encourage your grandmother to stop chemotherapy under the same circumstances? Would you turn off your brothers’ life support if he had a similar injury? The choice is not identical, but it is worth considering the comparative weight of the decision you are making.

Determining When To Euthanize A Pet: Are You Ready To Say Good-Bye?

When your pet has a terminal illness or is extremely old, the choice to euthanize may be one that you arrive at slowly and naturally. Under these circumstances, there is little reason to euthanize your pet suddenly. Unless certain death is relatively immediate, with or without treatment, consider giving yourself (and your pet) a week or more to tell each other good-bye before putting him to sleep. These tender few days of saying farewell can help you to heal.

In the end, there is really very little that you can do to fully prepare yourself for the pain of putting a pet to sleep, but there are ways to be certain that you are making a proper and selfless decision. Whatever road you choose for your pet’s future, do so with respect and love for your animal. The choice to euthanize a pet (or not) is one of the most tender, loving decisions that you will ever make as a pet owner.