Not sure when the time is right? How do I know when my companion animal is really suffering? Our goal is to create the most peaceful experience for families facing companion animal end-of-life issues. We are happy to consult with you about your beloved cat, dog or other furry friend. We are only a phone call away.
Your family veterinarian can help you decide when your pet is nearing the end of life, whether because of age or illness. The information provided here is meant to help guide you toward an informed discussion with your veterinarian.
Quality of Life Scale
Renowned veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos created a Quality of Life Scale that is a helpful tool for both pet care providers and pet owners. The scale is available for download here.
The Four Stages of Dying
The process of dying is different for every pet. Some deaths are sudden, while others are marked by a prolonged, steady decline in function and quality of life. You know your pet better than anyone. Recognizing the following stages and the symptoms that are often present can help you understand the progression that your pet may go through toward the end of life.
During Stage One, your pet may eat less and lose weight as well as physical strength. He or she may spend less time grooming, exhibit a detached gaze, and experience constipation or incontinence. Your pet may also seem more restless or irritable, vocalize more, change his or her drinking habits, move less, and prefer solitude.
During Stage Two you may notice sunken eyes, increased weight loss, decreased energy, a progression of intestinal changes, a further decrease in appetite, and changes in breathing patterns. Any behavioral changes that occurred in Stage One will become more pronounced, and your pet may lose all interest in playing, have difficulty relaxing, and start seeking out new places to sleep. His or her gaze may become less focused. This is also the stage when some pets experience a final rally, exhibiting a return to normal behavior for a period of time.
In Stage Three, physical changes such as twitching, pale gums, cold extremities, discharge from mouth, eyes, or nose, weakness, incontinence (eventually no output), and breathing difficulties become increasingly noticeable. Your pet’s daily routine may stop, vocalizations may stop, and your pet may seem emotionally detached and no longer bothered by urination or defecation in his or her sleeping area.
During Stage Four, the final stage, your pet’s eyes will be fixed and set, and your pet may be unresponsive. Body twitching is common, as is a weak pulse, panting or open-mouth breathing, irregular breathing, cold extremities, lack of reflexes, and the kicking of legs. When your pet reaches stage four, death is imminent.
We encourage you to speak with your veterinarian about your pet’s condition, and please contact us if you have any questions.