Serving Nebraska and Iowa

Grief Resources

Learn more about our Grief resources services below!

Making the Decision to Say Goodbye

The decision to euthanize is not an easy one and will be different for every person and every pet. You know your pet the best, and we can help walk you through the decision-making process when it is too difficult to make on your own with a Quality of Life Consultation. The following article can also help in deciding when it is the right time to say goodbye.

Whether your decision is to continue palliative and hospice care or to say goodbye to your beloved friend with gentle euthanasia, we at Nebraska Pet Hospice support your choice. You know your pet best…

Quality of Life

Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed.
The issue of “quality of life” is perhaps the most important factor to examine when considering the painful choice of euthanasia. But what is “quality of life”? How can you determine whether a pet is still experiencing a good quality of life – or whether its level of suffering is no longer acceptable? When all possible treatments have been exhausted, all avenues explored, when does one say… enough?

That decision is individual to every pet and every owner. Following, however, are some factors to consider when attempting to assess a pet’s quality of life:


An older pet often loses mobility. A dog may no longer be able to climb stairs or hop into a car; a cat may lose the ability to jump onto a bed or chair. At this stage, however, your pet may still be healthy and happy, and you can easily make accommodations for their reduced ability.

If, however, your pet can barely move, that’s another matter. Can your pet get to their feet without assistance? Can they sit or lie down without collapsing? Can they walk? Can they handle basic functions, such as squatting on a litter box? Do they whimper or growl if you attempt to move them? I’ve seen dogs so crippled with hip dysplasia that they literally had to drag their immobilized hindquarters across the floor. This hardly represents the “quality of life” I want for my pets.

Appetite/Eating Ability

Is your pet able to eat? Can they consume enough food (or digest that food) to remain properly nourished? Do they regurgitate immediately after eating? Are they unable to chew, or do they have difficulty swallowing? Do they enjoy eating, or do you have to coax every bite past their lips? A pet that is unable to eat or gain sufficient nourishment from its food is on a slow road to starvation.


A number of illnesses, including cancer, can affect the lungs. When a condition causes the lungs to fill with fluid or foreign matter (such as cancer cells), a pet quickly loses the ability to breathe easily or comfortably. You’ll notice that your pet may seem to be panting or that they are laboring to breathe; often, you’ll see their stomach or flanks “pumping” as they can no longer breathe with just the chest muscles. They may also experience wheezing attacks. If such symptoms occur, ask for a chest x-ray to determine the condition of the lungs. If the problem is due to an allergy, infection, or asthma, medication may help; if it is due to fluids that are a result of cancer or a heart condition, however, little can be done.


It can be difficult to determine whether a pet is in pain, as animals instinctively mask discomfort as much as possible. You can pick up clues, however, by watching their posture and expression. Does your pet’s face appear furrowed or “worried” rather than relaxed and happy? Do they sit hunched or “hunkered” and tense rather than relaxing and lying down? Lack of mobility can also be a sign of pain.

Another indication of pain is “denning.” An animal in pain will seek a safe place where it won’t be disturbed by other animals. If your pet has forsaken their usual territories or sleeping places for the back of the closet or a spot under the bed, this may be a sign that they are in pain or distress and feels vulnerable.

A more obvious indication of pain is a pet’s reaction to touch. If your pet responds to touch by flinching away, hissing, snarling, or even snapping, this is a clear indication of pain. Sometimes this can indicate localized pain; if the pet doesn’t want to be touched at all, however, it may indicate a broader discomfort.


Many pet owners feel terribly guilty over the natural annoyance they feel when a pet becomes incontinent. They feel they should be more loving and more patient. Incontinence, however, can also be stressful for the pet. As a basic survival mechanism, animals learn not to “mess where they sleep” (for the smell would draw attention to the location of one’s den). When an animal can no longer control when or where they urinate or defecates, you can be sure they are not happy with the situation.

Mental Capacity

Older pets occasionally develop signs of diminished mental capacity. They may seem to “forget” things, such as where a toy is located or what a command means. As such, a pet may become confused by their surroundings, and this confusion can develop into fear. (In some cases, this “confusion” may be the result of hearing or vision loss, to which both you and your pet can often adapt.)


Determining whether your pet is “enjoying” life is certainly a subjective decision. However, if you have been a keen observer of your pet’s behavior and attitude during its lifetime, you are likely to be able to determine when they no longer seem “happy.” You’ll know when they no longer seem to take any pleasure from their food, its toys, its surroundings – and most of all, from contact with you and the rest of the family. Most pets are tremendously easy to please; when it no longer becomes possible to raise a purr or a tail-wag, you can be fairly certain that your pet is receiving little joy from life.

Response to Treatment

When a pet becomes ill, our natural response is to provide whatever treatment we can. This may mean tests, medications, or even surgery. But drugs have side effects, repeated trips to the vet cause emotional distress, and more invasive treatments take a physical toll. Eventually, we may conclude that our efforts to treat a pet’s illness are more stressful to the pet than the condition itself – and that our efforts to save a pet’s life are actually diminishing, rather than enhancing, the quality of that life.

Websites, Phone Numbers, and In-Person Meetings
Pet Compassion Careline (855) 245-8214
Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Honoring the Bond

Local Pet loss support group
Nebraska Humane Society
In-person meetings on the first or second Saturday of each month 10:30 am
8929 Fort Street
Omaha, NE 68134