This Labrador is being put to sleep to end the suffering of terminal illness.

Putting a Pet to Sleep: When is Euthanasia Humane?

Putting a pet to sleep can be devastating. You’re saying goodbye to your beloved companion. It’s not an easy decision. In addition to feelings of grief and loss, there will most likely also be feelings of doubt and even guilt. However, sometimes it might be the most humane thing to do for your pet.

When is it humane to put a pet to sleep?

We asked Carolyn Press-McKenzie, CEO, and founder of HUHA no-kill shelter when is it humane to put your pet down?

She says, “because HUHA is a no-kill shelter, often people think that means animals get kept alive regardless of what state they’re in.”

“However, what’s important is that every animal deserves the best journey it can have. And for some animals who are living with a terminal illness, letting them go is the best thing you can do for them.”

Terminal illness

“When it comes to terminal illness there’s a lot of pain and suffering for animals, just like there is for humans,” says Carolyn.

“So, it’s important to be able to work with your vet on a plan where you draw the line on how far to let that suffering continue or progress. The line may be on the distant horizon, or it may be tomorrow. For instance, it could be when the disease has progressed further and the pet is in pain most of the time. Or it could be the point where the meds aren’t as effective anymore.”

As a veterinary nurse of 35 years, she feels that when an animal is in too much pain, “euthanasia can be a gift. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do to release that pain and suffering.”

Carolyn adds that HUHA’s philosophy on whether it’s humane to put a pet to sleep is ‘Quality of life and quality of death.’

Quality of life

One resource you may want to consider in measuring how much your pet is suffering is The Quality of Life HHHHHMM Scale, recommended by famous dog whisperer Cesar Milan.

The index includes the following factors on a scale of one to 10:

  • Hurt
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Happiness
  • Mobility
  • More good days than bad

This index gives you a set of clear guidelines so you to have something to work with other than your intuition. In addition, you should take your vet’s advice.

When exploring how pet health affects vet mental health you’ll discover vets suffer an enormous emotional toll from euthanising pets. This means you can very likely trust that your vet won’t recommend putting your pet to sleep unless they believe it’s in the interest of your pet’s welfare.

This vet is checking how far along this cat's terminal illness has progressed.

Plan ahead

It’s important that you make the plan now and not later. Euthanising a pet isn’t something you want to action at the last minute. You need time to prepare psychologically. There are decisions you will have to make before it happens.

Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of decisions to help you plan:

  • Will you stay with your pet while they’re put to sleep?
  • Who needs to say goodbye beforehand (eg. children, grandparents, etc)?
  • Which family members or friends will go with you to the vet and/or be present?
  • Who will drive? Ideally, someone who’s not as close to your pet as you will drive you there and back
  • What will you do with your pet’s remains (bury, cremate, organ donation, or other)


Making these choices beforehand will give you more time to grieve when you most need it.

Your pet’s last day

At HUHA, Carolyn says that if an animal is suffering and must be euthanised, “we will give them the best day out on their last day, from outings to ice-cream cones.

“We had a dog who’d had a lot of ups and downs. When it came to the point where we knew there would be no more ups, we were very aware that he was on borrowed time. And we gave him a bucket list, took him out, fed him his favourite food. He even met [primatologist and anthropologist] Jane Goodall.”

It’s important, if you can, to make the most of your last day with your pet. Let them do the things you may not otherwise and feed them their best meal ever. Make some more, final happy memories you can look back on and smile.

Pet insurance

It’s important to have pet insurance so you can get your pets the proper medical care when they need it, at any life stage. This will free you up to think about your pet rather than your pocket.
Remember that cats and dogs have a shorter lifespan than humans do, so people generally outlive their pets. When it comes to the end, what’s important is that you’ve given your pet a good life.

Putting a pet to sleep– over to you

Have you had to put a pet to sleep? Share your story with us and help other pet parents who are in a similar position. Tell us in the comments below and share a pic of your pet on our Facebook page to remember them well.

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