Serving Nebraska and Iowa

Knowing when to say goodbye to a beloved pet is one of the most difficult decisions you’ll make as a pet parent. The emotional complexity and sheer responsibility of this final decision can create a vicious cycle of guilt and uncertainty, potentially causing you to question your pet’s condition and postpone humane euthanasia. Although end-of-life decisions are rarely straightforward, accurately assessing your pet’s quality of life can ensure you make the most timely and compassionate decision for your pet.

It’s always too early until it’s too late: Timing and pet euthanasia

Many pet parents who contact Nebraska Pet Hospice ask whether they should wait for their pet’s “natural passing.” Unfortunately, a natural or unaided death is often preceded by unnecessary suffering, as pets may endure pain, discomfort, and anxiety as their condition worsens or their body shuts down. At this point, many pet parents rush to provide euthanasia to end their pet’s distress, resulting in a traumatic ending for the pet and their family. Alternatively, arranging an in-home euthanasia appointment before your pet’s condition reaches a critical point ensures a calm, unhurried, and peaceful transition. When you make this decision with care and consideration, you allow your pet to experience a dignified and compassionate end that celebrates their life—rather than a decision that simply mercifully ends their pain.

5 Ways to assess your pet’s quality of life

Although no “right” time exists to say goodbye to a beloved pet, the following strategies can help you set aside your emotions and make an objective determination about your pet’s quality of life: 

  • #1: Consider what’s important to your pet — What are your pet’s three favorite things in the whole world? Do these things still bring them joy? Do they light up when they see them or seem disinterested or unaware of their presence? This simple assessment, when used alongside other strategies on this list, provides a glimpse into your pet’s mental and emotional state.
  • #2: Complete a quality of life assessment test — The HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale is a simple seven-step assessment that assigns a numerical score to your pet’s condition. Using this scale, you consider your pet’s hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, and mobility levels, and whether they are experiencing more good days than bad. Scores less than 35 correlate with decreased quality of life and should be discussed with your regular veterinarian or our Nebraska Pet Hospice team. Suppose your pet’s score is acceptable but borderline. In that case, we encourage you to begin discussions with your pet’s veterinary team to determine if palliative care, which includes pain medications and supportive therapies, could make your pet more comfortable. If more than one person cares for your pet, having each person complete the HHHHHMM scale can be a beneficial way to further reduce bias, stimulate conversation, and ensure the best decision for your pet.
  • #3: Track your pet’s good and bad days — Keep a simple journal or calendar of your pet’s days by marking each good day with a plus sign or happy face and a bad day with a minus sign or sad face. Although this approach is subjective, the practice may be preferred by people who prefer intuitive decision-making when it comes to their pet’s well-being. The deceptively simple design may also prevent overanalysis, which can interfere with judgment. If your record-keeping indicates more than three bad days in a row, schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian or a consultation with our Nebraska Pet Hospice veterinarian.
  • #4: Observe your pet’s behavior — Supervise your pet’s daily behavior and routine. Are they struggling to rise or rest, experiencing declining mobility, falling, acting confused or disoriented, or displaying significant personality changes such as being withdrawn, anxious, aggressive, agitated, or fearful? These signs may suggest unmanaged pain or suffering. Also, consider your pet’s basic functions, including breathing, appetite, thirst, sleep, and elimination habits. Disruptions in these categories can have significant health consequences and—without attention—lead to rapid, unexpected decline.
  • #5: Reflect on your pet’s prognosis — If your pet’s condition is chronic or terminal, your veterinarian may have provided you with a time line or a list of what to expect as your pet’s condition progresses. Compare your pet’s behavior—gathered in the steps above—to the signs or stages your veterinarian discussed. This can help you understand where your pet is on their health journey and anticipate what might be ahead. Electing for humane euthanasia while your pet is still comfortable can ensure they don’t experience expected suffering or stressful complications such as seizures, appetite loss, progressive weakness, failing mobility, or severe pain. 

End-of-life decisions can trigger immense pain, guilt, and anticipatory grief, but as your pet’s guardian, advocate, and best friend, they rely on you to protect them from unnecessary suffering, discomfort, and pain. Although euthanasia can feel like the wrong choice for a million different reasons, a peaceful and pain-free transition from this world is one of the most loving things you can do for your pet. 

Nebraska Pet Hospice is a mobile veterinary service dedicated to providing comfort, compassion, and dignity for your pet.  If you’re concerned about your pet’s condition, wondering if it’s time to say goodbye, or would like to request an in-home euthanasia appointment, contact our caring team