Quality of Life



Determining when the right time to plan your pet's euthanasia is an excruciatingly difficult decision. It is one of the few times in your life that you will have to choose to end the life of something that you love. Nothing in our past experiences prepares us for this experience. This page and the quality of life worksheet is written to help you to make that decision with a more informed clarity.

One of the first things that you should do is to start assessing your pet on a daily basis. Refer to our Quality of Life Worksheet page to help you to understand some of the factors that you should be monitoring as a way of deciding whether or not your pet's medical conditions are affecting his or her life. This worksheet will allow you to more specifically characterize the factors which are affecting your pet's lifestyle.

It will also allow you to track the progression of your pet's symptoms so you can objectively monitor whether he or she is deteriorating over time. As your pet ages or as his or her disease progresses you should repeat this quality of life worksheet which will allow you to become more aware of subtle deterioration that may be occurring over time. The worksheet can be repeated on a weekly or monthly basis depending on how quickly things are changing.

Start asking yourself if your pet's good days are outnumbering the bad days, or if it is the other way around? Devote a calendar specifically to your pet and mark on a calendar how you think he or she is doing each day so that you can track the trend. You could use the letters G or B or develop a score system of 1 to 5. When the bad days consistently outnumber the good days then the decision to euthanize is probably a fair choice.

What is a Quality of Life Exam?

Gentle Goodbyes offers a in-home Quality of Life (QOL) examination to pets in the Treasure Valley area. With a QOL exam a veterinarian will come to your house and perform a full physical exam on your pet. We will also take a careful history to find out what diseases or orthopedic conditions your pet may suffer from and what medications they are currently on to help them. We will then observe your pet in his or her home environment and backyard. From observing your pet at home we will have a better idea of how they move, whether they are in pain or not, whether they are able to eat comfortably and how they interact with the other pets and human family members. This will give us the best idea of how your pet is doing in his or her own environment. With this in-home examination and history we can suggest ways to improve your pets quality of life and mobility in his or her own home. We can also make recommendations of what diagnostics or tests that you may want to discuss doing at your family veterinarian and if you at interested in more advanced options or diagnostics we can refer you to the proper veterinary specialist in the area.

If your pet is suffering from a chronic disease or a terminal condition the veterinary specialists can help you to better understand your pets disease. We can make suggestions on how to maximize his or her comfort and how to extend their life in a way where he or she remains content and happy. We can also discuss how your pet's disease will progress and we can go through the ways in which your pet may deteriorate. We can explain the specific warning signs that you will be looking for that indicate that your pet is becoming uncomfortable or unhappy. We can also explain what organ systems might be affected as your pet's disease progresses and what symptoms you will start to notice as the disease starts to affect these systems. We will carefully explain what the warning signs are that you will watch for in your pet that will prompt you to call Gentle Goodbyes for our final services. We will also educate you on what signs are considered emergencies and should prompt an immediate phone call to a veterinarian to relieve your pet from this discomfort.

Because we are not a full service veterinary hospital we do not carry any medications or laboratory equipment, we cannot do any diagnostics such as bloodwork, X-rays, ultrasound nor can we dispense medications or give treatments. We can however make recommendations of the best ways to get medical answers about your pet and we can help improve his or her quality of life within their home environment and with the activities that your pet likes to perform.

It is easy to feel guilty when making this decision, but always remember that you have taken care of your pet to the best of your abilities, for as long as you were able, within the circumstances of your life. Because of you, your pet has lived a longer and happier life than he or she would have lived if he had not been adopted into your family. Animals in the wild are not given the luxury of the medical care and conveniences that you were able to give to your pet and thus, never make it to the advanced ages or states that you were able to provide for your pet.

At some point you will have to decide if your pet's quality of life is a good one or not. There can be many factors that play into making this decision. Some of these factors may revolve around circumstances of your own life. Perhaps your debilitated or orthopedically challenged pet is too large in size for you to easily manage or comfortably care for. Perhaps your work life is too busy to adequately meet the needs of a debilitated or geriatric animal? Perhaps your family's financial situation prohibits you from treating an expensive or terminal medical problem that your pet may have. All of these factors are real ones and are fair to consider when you make the decision of whether or not your pet is happy.

Some of the more common medical reasons that people choose to euthanize their pet are as follows:

  • If your pet has stopped eating for more than 3 days.
  • If your pet continues to vomit and the vomiting cannot be controlled with medication.
  • If your pet is extremely weak or so debilitated that he or she can't stand anymore.
  • If your pet has lost the use of his hind legs and can no longer get up. You may have concerns that your pet may fall or hurt him or herself when you are not around.
  • If your pet is incontinent, perhaps because of his mobility issues, and you fairly feel that this is not a dignified life for him or her.
  • If your pet is in extreme pain and medications are no longer able to keep the pain under control.
  • If your pet is having trouble breathing and you do not want to see his breathing issues worsen.
  • If your pet is not mentally aware of what is happening and is easily confused, frightened or disoriented.
  • If your pet has a seizure disorder which can no longer be controlled or which is severe and happens without warning.
  • If your pet has a progressive or debilitating disease that you can no longer manage physically, mentally or financially.
  • If your pet has a behavior issue and his aggression is becoming dangerous to other animals or other people and behavioral intervention did not work.

All of these reasons listed above are valid reasons to consider euthanasia. It can be particularly difficult to make this decision if your pet still seems mentally normal but his or her body is not cooperating.

The following medical conditions should prompt a very quick decision to euthanize:

DIFFICULTY BREATHING- It is important to understand what struggling to breathe means in an animal. Most people believe that if their pet is having difficulty breathing then their pet will have its mouth open and will be making loud breathing noises or gasping movements with their mouth. This can be true on occasion; however the reality is that THIS IS NOT how most dogs or cats will show you that they are struggling to breathe. Most of the time when a pet is struggling to breathe you can see an abnormal breathing pattern but you cannot hear any abnormal breathing sounds.
To tell if your pet is struggling or working hard to breathe you need to observe their breathing pattern. Watch your pet from a short distance away and note if you can visually see their chest or their abdominal wall moving from that distance. If a pet is struggling to breathe they will have an abnormal breathing pattern and you will be able to visually see their thoracic wall moving in a much more rapid fashion and with a much more exaggerated effort. You may also note that their abdominal wall is moving as well and pushing harder just to sustain themselves breathing. Again, animals struggling to breathe are often working hard to breathe but are not making abnormal breathing sounds.
You can see examples of animals exhibiting increased work of of breathing in the video links below. These videos are shown so that you can confirm your observations about your own pets breathing pattern. The videos may be difficult to watch but we feel it is important that you are able to recognize this in your own pet. Animals who are working hard to breathe often feel a sense of panic, or a sense of extreme discomfort, and they often heading down a path of progressively exhausting themselves just trying to breathe. Many times, your pet may be unable to lay down or rest because it is more difficult to breathe in those positions. If your pet is struggling to breathe - please, please call your vet, call an emergency hospital, or call us for help -Immediately. Put your own self into a time or a situation when you felt as if you were struggling to breathe and you will quickly understand the urgency of helping them as rapidly as possible.
The following videos show signs of dogs and cats struggling to breathe for a variety of medical reasons. Struggling to breathe looks the same regardless of the cause. The most common causes of breathing in this fashion include pneumonia, heart failure and cancer but the breathing pattern looks the same for all of these diseases.
These videos are shown for educational purposes so you can identify if your pet is struggling to breathe and take immediate steps to help them.

Increased Respiratory Rate and Effort - YouTube
maggie dyspnea - YouTube
Canine Congestive Heart Failure - YouTube

Although it is normal to feel uncertainty about when the correct day is, try to use the tools we have given you to assess the happiness of your pet. If your pet is not happy, then as owners, the last stage of care of your pet may be to ensure that your pet is not suffering. Sometimes to alleviate our pet's discomfort or pain we have to take pain or discomfort upon ourselves.

As a last note, keep in mind that most veterinarians are offering to do a home euthanasia because they believe it is important and because they believe that it is the way it should be. Most are doing home euthanasia outside of, or in addition to, their traditional jobs working as veterinarians at a hospital. For most veterinarians doing home euthanasia multiple times a day would become too heartbreaking and too emotionally devastating. For these reasons our euthanasia service is available in limited blocks of time throughout the week. Therefore home euthanasia is by appointment only and may not be available on a daily basis.

It is important to keep this in mind when deciding whether or not you want a home euthanasia for your pet and to consider how you think their condition is progressing. We would like to help every pet and every family exactly when they want the euthanasia appointment but unfortunately this option is not always possible.