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When your pet is old or sick, you're faced with a heartbreaking decision: Is it time for euthanasia?

It's almost never an easy decision to put your pet down. You may worry it's too soon. That it's too late. That it's not right. Yet it's a decision most of us eventually face.

"Unless some tragedy befalls your pet, you are going to have to make this choice," says Carrie Damewood, DVM, a veterinarian in Cottage Grove, Ore.

We all hope our pet will pass painlessly in their sleep, but that rarely happens, Damewood says. And while it may feel like the right thing to let nature take its course, a natural death is rarely kind if it means prolonged pain.

But how do you know if your pet is suffering, and how do you know the right time?

Ask a Vet

Before you think about putting your pet to sleep, you need the advice of a vet who knows you and your pet well, says veterinarian oncologist Kelvin Kow, DVM, DACVIM, clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Share your thoughts and fears with your vet, and get their input. Don't hesitate to get a second opinion from another vet or a specialist, Kow suggests.

Explore your pet's treatment options and the pros and cons of each option. “The goal of medical care is ultimately to give our pets the best chance of a good quality of life,” Kow says.

Be honest with yourself. Would you want this operation or therapy, and what about the additional or prolonged pain they may bring?

Is Your Pet Enjoying Life?

No one knows your pet like you do. You've been there for the years of love, play, and affection.

So think of three or four things your pet really enjoys -- such as fetching a ball, playing with a certain toy, or just being with you. Can they still do and enjoy these things?

Then ask: Does your pet still have an appetite? Can they maintain bladder and bowel functions easily? Are they interested in doing the things they normally do?

When there are no effective treatment options, when their bodies are failing or they’re in pain, and when most of your pet's joys are compromised, it's "probably time to consider humane euthanasia," Kow says. "I often tell clients that 'just because your pet is alive, it does not mean that they are living.'"

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