When to Put a Pet Down

Updated on May 26, 2012
C.K. asks from Knoxville, TN
25 answers

Hi ladies,

I have an old cat (18) who is not in the greatest of health. She has a number of health issues which I have taken her to the vet about and we are doing the best we can to help her with those issues. She has stopped grooming herself in the past six months and is looking pretty rough (some of her fur is matted despite my attempts at helping her). She is pretty frail. She does eat, but she is still all skin and bones. She pretty much sleeps all day. She still uses her litter box.

I am really struggling with whether or not I should have her put down. I feel guilty about saying it is time because it is not a clear cut decision (e.g., it is not like she has terminal cancer or something and I would be easing her pain. Although I don't know if she is in pain with her other health issues or not.). But then I wonder if I am just letting her suffer because of my inability to make this decision. Just typing this brings tears to my eyes which makes it all the harder to make the decision.

So to any of you who have had to put down a pet, how did you decide when it was time? People keep telling me "you will just know", but that has not been very helpful.

Thanks for your input.

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers



answers from Houston on

Plain and simple.....do what I did....ask my vet. I have always heard...if they are eating and drinking and using the bathroom they are okay...but still....I let my vet finally tell me. I asked her....what she would do if it was her pet...and she told me straight up...and I had no reservation about making a decision immediately. I trusted her judgement completely!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Lakeland on

Since you are asking I would say that it is time. I know that some people are very against it but I don’t think it is wrong to do it.

I had put both of my cats down when they got to that very old age in a cat life and I do not regret it at all. I loved them dearly and I know they went quietly and calmly. When I saw that their quality of life was gone then I knew it was time.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Beaumont on

My heart goes out to you. We're facing a similar decision. I think when she stops eating would be my sign if I were you. I think when they do that, their body is shutting down. She's eating, using her litter box, gets around. I don't think she's ready. Huge hug....I know it's hard.

2 moms found this helpful

More Answers



answers from New York on

You don't always just know. Deciding to put down our dog was so hard... For us the turning point was when we saw a video we had shot of him and saw the difference between healthy and not. Because the change is so gradual you do not always realize how bad it has gotten until you actually see what once was....

I will say a prayer for you...

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

I'm so sorry to hear about your elderly kitty. For me it is time when they stop eating, have no control over their bowels or bladder or are in extreme pain with no hope for recovery. At that point I feel fortunate that we have the option to help our beloved pets not suffer any more. I was a vet tech many moons ago and have euthanized hundreds of pets, I felt the majority of time I was doing them a huge favor. I'm a complete animal lover and most of the time the owners were present and I sensed calmness in their little pet's eyes. It's not a bad way to go. I "just knew" but that may have been from working in the veterinary industry. Just think of what is best for her not you. Again, I'm so sorry.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

When we had a dog with cancer, we had a discussion about this with our good friend who is a veterinary surgeon. Her advice was to look at the animal's quality of life. What are your cat's three favorite things to do? Maybe she has always liked to play with a ball of yarn, sleep on the bed, and have someone pet her. When she can no longer do those things, it's time to put her down. For instance, if she is no longer playful, cannot jump up onto the bed anymore, and doesn't want you to pet her, then her quality of life has diminished to the point that it would be kinder to put her down. However, if she can still do those things, then her quality of life is pretty good, despite the fact that she may need a little more help with grooming and such. I remember our beautiful Himalayan was all skin and bones by the time she was about 14, but she was still active and playful, so we let her be. When she became senile (she would walk into the house and then appear confused about where she was, and would walk in circles, obviously forgetting where she was or what she was doing), then we decided it was time to put her down. It's such a hard decision to make. :( Sorry you're going through this.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

I don't "just know," either, and I have great trouble with it. So... I have trained my vet, who knows that I want to keep my pets happy for as long as possible.

All other things being equal, if it seems really hard for Rover or Fluffy, I am likely to ask, "If this were your pet, what would you do?" Then we'll discuss it, and we may come up with a new treatment idea to try. Or, conversely, the vet may say, "It's time, and this is why."

At our house, we've had cats live until they were twenty, and sometimes they do look pretty rough and they sleep a lot, just like elderly people. If one year of a cat's life is five years of a person's life, as is sometimes said, then an eighteen-year-old cat is getting close to the century mark. Personally, I have to go by the kitty's attitude. If an elderly cat acts, well, elderly, that's all right, and I give him extra time and extra attention - and sometimes extra cleaning up. But that same cat may have a good attitude, and I try to consider that and take it one day at a time. There's nothing wrong with passing away of natural causes.

Get some Kleenex before you read this story. My DIL was given a kitty when she was twelve, and when she married my son the kitty was getting up in years. He's in the Army, and when he was away in Iraq the cat started really acting as if her age were catching up to her. My DIL didn't know what to do, but gave the kitty the extra care that was needed. It turned out that her cat was waiting for my son to come home; she died comfortably the day after he returned, curled up in his lap.

Sometimes there are surprises. One of my cats had a very hard year in his middle-to-old age (not as old as your kitty!), with several serious problems which were hard on him. He seemed to be struggling, and my vet was starting to make those "quality of life" remarks, when I realized that as uncomfortable as my kitty was, he showed no signs of *wanting* to die - he wanted to live. He was adjusting to his condition better than I was. So I said, "Let's just back off. I'll keep taking care of him and medicating him, and we'll see if he stays happy." And he did - for several more years, until he died of old age. So sometimes we both learn a good lesson.

This is a happy result of patronizing the same veterinary office for years and years; I trust them and they trust me.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I'm so sorry, and I so feel your pain. I had to put my beloved Daisy dog down in April after a 15 month illness. I'd spoken with her vet repeatedly about not wanting to keep her alive if she was not having quality of life. Everyone told me I'd know, but there was truly no lightning bolt moment when it was obvious. As her health deteriorated, I started feeling it was time but also felt the guilt you describe and the doubt of not being 100% sure. I finally made an appt and said I wanted her examined to see if I was doing the right thing keeping her alive or if I was causing her to suffer. Ultimately, I had to make the decision, but the vet did help me know what to do. Previously, he'd always held out hope and offered other treatments. Make an appointment and talk to your vet about whether the time has come.

If you have never had to help a pet along (I had not), please know that it is very quick and is peaceful. It is like they go to sleep (possibly with their eyes a bit open). The vet was very respectful about allowing me to have time alone with her beforehand and to stay with her and have time afterwards. Also, for me, the days leading up to the decision were so much harder than it was afterwards. I know I did the right thing for Daisy, and I did the most loving thing I could. The hardest part was explaining it to my 4 year old, and she just needed to know that Daisy died. She still has a lot of questions though. We did get another dog a few weeks later, not to replace Daisy but because we have enough love for another dog. With a healthy, young, energetic dog, I am discovering that my daughter was missing the playful, fun part of having a pet. She is enjoying that immensly. Still we do miss Daisy but know she is in a place where she is healthy again.

Best of luck with your decision whether soon or a bit down the road. As long as you do it with love for your cat and what is best for her, you will do what is right..

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Redding on


There are quite a few of our thoughts from this question being asked in the past in that link.
No matter what, it's always hard to put a pet down.
When you really feel there is more suffering than happy moments, that's when it's time.
I dread that day. My cat is only 7 and I don't want to see her suffering... I honestly dont know what I will do when that time comes. I've been lucky I guess in the past that all of my pets have been killed by another animal or have just wandered off never to return.
It sounds like you are getting close to knowing "it's time", and even though being told "you will just know" isnt helpful, you will.
My brother let his cat go naturally though, sounds like the same condition yours is in, it was bad near the end tho as the cat couldnt control its urine or bowels and spent it's last week alive living in the garage on a blanket. They went in one morning only to see the cat in the same position they had left him in the night before, he went in his sleep.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

My 18 year old kitty was losing a lot of weight, so I took her in, and it ended up that she had lost most of her kidney function..... so they put her on the special diet, gave her "sub Q fluids" (saline solution injected under her skin to help rehydrate her), which did help. However, about 3 months later, I looked at her one morning, and just knew.... it was the way she was hunched over, stuff like that... it looked like she had just given up.

I took her to the vet, and had to go to work... they evaluated her, and when I called them later, they also said it was time......

I wasn't there.... I don't know how I would have felt if I had been there.... but I bawled, anyway. She was 6 months older than my kids!

It is never an easy decision... they ARE our babies!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


I'm truly sorry. It's a VERY hard decision to make.

I'm not a cat person, so I don't know all the intricacies of what cats do - preening (??), etc. so I can't really tell you much on that. I do know that with my dogs - they had a look in their eyes - like they were "done". When we put Obi down in December 2008 - he smelled bad - and he had "the look" that said "I'm done." He was 14.5 years old. He had served us well!!! This happened the day after Thanksgiving. Our vet saw him and said - I can give you medicine to help him through the weekend. We gave him the meds - and you could tell it was wearing off....we knew...

talk with your vet. To me? If a cat isn't taking care of itself anymore? It's time. I've never seen a cat that didn't take care of itself. If she's skin and bones and not taking care of herself? I would say it's time.

Talk to the vet. If the meds to help her aren't working and she's not playing or anything like that? I say it's time.

I'm truly sorry. I know how hard a decision this is. This is part of your family.

Good luck in your decision making process.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Missoula on

I think of it this way... Your cat has had a long, happy life. She is suffering right now. I know a lot of people are very against putting pets down because of age... but think about it. In the wild, she would not have lived nearly this long. She would have starved to death, or been killed by another animal as she lost the ability to hunt and defend herself. You have done everything you can to see to her comfort, but is her quality of life really worth preserving at this point? If she isn't grooming herself, and isn't able to keep weight, she can't be feeling very good. She can only get worse, unless you find a kitty fountain of youth. putting her down would be the kind path, IMO.

I'm sorry, and I know how very hard it is. We had a cat that lived to be 25, and having her put down was one the hardest things that we ever had to do... but she was so miserable that it had to be done.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I guess you just kind of know.
If she's not in pain, or otherwise disruptive to your life, I'd leave her be, if she otherwise seems "happy."
Otherwise, you will know.
When it becomes undignified for the pet--it's time.
Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

You need to ask your vet.

I had a cat, that at 14 years old, went through what your cat is going through. Then his body just deteriorated.
Old age and the body breaking down.
He died, before we could put him down.
it was sad.
Yes, they are suffering.
They know they are not well.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

When the benefit they see in a day no longer outweighs the pain.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

Cyndi, I feel for you. Truly, it is a blessing that our pets can be put down and not be made to suffer. The answer to when, in my view, is the difference in having and not having quality of life. If she is skin and bones, she certainly is off her feed, so to speak. If she only sleeps and goes to the litterbox and eats a bit, then goes back to sleep, that's not much quality of life.

When you come to the decision that this is no life for your precious cat, then it is time to let her go.

Good luck,

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

It's really not a good sign when they stop grooming. I had a lovely little kitty for 13 years and I loved her dearly (at that time, it was half of my lifetime!). When she was diagnosed w/ kidney failure, I was devastated. I did the whole administering water bags via needle under the skin myself for 6 months. She perked up for a bit, but in the end I knew I was just extending the inevitable. One day I woke up and she was just laying in her kitty litter panting looking at me with these eyes that said, "It's time now." I took her in to the vet that morning and said goodbye. I totally know how hard it is (we've since had to put down our beloved long-haired chihuahua and that just about did me in) ... BUT ... I think you know. Now is time. So sorry! Hugs!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

If she is in pain, and having a hard time going to the bathroom and feeding, acting scared and confused... than it is time, it doesn't sound like she is there yet. I worked at a vet and have seen many animals put down prematurely, and many animals who should have been put down sooner.

I would take her to the vet anyways for a senior checkup.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Louisville on

shes not ready. shes not having accidents shes still eating... it doesnt sound like shes crying in pain. once she looses control of her bladder and bowel then its time until then just let her be an old lady and love her :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Really, you are the only one that can determine if she's still having a good enough quality of life or not. I will say that I had a cat that I felt need to be put down, but my husband kept telling me to wait. He was doing a great job at nursing the cat and giving shots and so forth, but I was really thinking it was time, but also not really ready to let go. I finally decided that the next day I would take the cat to the vet. When we woke up the next morning, he had curled up in a corner and died. That was about 7 years ago and I still feel guilty that my beloved pet died all alone in a corner instead of in my arms while I comforted him.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

With my 1st dog, the family dog with my parents and brother, she had gotten sick while I was in a different state w/ my soon to be husband and my dad was feeding her to keep her going til I got home to say goodbye, mere days. I got home and she seemed to be happier, perkier, but was still not eating and wasting away to nothing, she was only 9. My male dog, very suddenly became ill, dark colored stools, blood in vomit, within a day, brought him to the er vet, my husband was deployed at the time and coming home the very next day. I told them I didn't care what they needed to do to keep him alive for one more day so my husband could at least say his goodbyes, did a blood transfusion, he had thrombocytopenia, a condition in which his platelets were so ridiculously low he could have bled out if he was just bumped funny. My husband got to see him the next day, he seemed to be responding well to treatments and then we got a call at 3am saying he was starting to fail, decision was either to transfuse again or put him down, my husband went and we put him down. I wish with all my being I could have been there for him so he knew I loved him and was there for him but our 2 girls were sleeping and we were not going to put them through that. That was this past december. He was a little over 8. Now our female dog who has had a disease called IMHA(immune mediated hemolytic anemia) since she was 5 is starting to show signs that the disease is not responding well to her treatment anymore. We will have her tested next week to see if her red blood cell levels are dropping and then we will know what to do either way. She is 9. It is never easy and in most of my personal situations, I think the person has to be ready to say goodbye and it's much easier when it's clear cut that the animal is suffering. My friend just had to put her husky down last week, she was 9 as well, torn acl, thousands of dollars to repair and other leg looked just as bad. She was suffering. You and your family are really the only ones that can choose that it's time. It's never an easy decision and one that you have to live with but one your pet will certainly be at peace with since they trust you with their lives!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

This is a very hard choice, just as hard as having to make the choice to cut the power to a family member on life support.

I had to make this decision almost 6 years ago to my very first dog that I had after leaving home. She was only five years old and she had flipped her stomach. I knew that I had to make a choice as even though I could tell she was not in much pain, to make her live her life not being her normal self just wasn't right. We took her to the vet and just before they put the iv in, she passed on her own and I can tell you that it was not pretty. I should of made the choice earlier but instead put her through a not so peaceful death.

If you are trying everything you can and she is just not getting any better, then I would say it is time before she has to go through what my poor baby had to go through. Do you have a husband or SO that can help you make the decision or even someone who could just be there to support you. Even though I knew we had to do this I could not bring myself to tell the Vet to go ahead. My husband had to be the one to day it.

My heart aches for you as again this is a very painful decision. My dogs are my furry children and even 6 years later I still have pictures up of my very first baby and always will.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

My friend said it best:
"what is there quality of life, would they want to live like this"????

Hardest decision I've EVER had to make!!!!!! My dog was almost15 when I decided it was time.. He didn't have any terminal illness either, but he was having "leaking" problems, so I had him in doggie diapers the last 6 months. He was still eating also, but moving REALLY slow... I was DEVASTATED making a decision of life or death....

Please, whenever you decide it's right for your furry child, please be in there with her.. I read a lot about it and it says that their hearing is the last to go... So I kept my face by my dog's ear until the very last second, talking to him. I was sobbing, but I wanted him to know I was with him until the very end... GEEZ, it's been 5 years and I can STILL cry about it...

I'm sorry, I TRULY know how hard it is :( :( :( :(

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Raleigh on

I think if you are asking yourself "should I" then it's probably getting close to her time. I had to put my 14 year old cat to sleep back in November. I just couldn't watch him deteriorate any further. He got very lethargic, skinny, and while he still would eat some, he started defecating on himself. By the that time, I felt so guilty that I didn't have him put to sleep earlier. He was in a lot of pain, and I could tell by looking in his eyes.
While heartbreaking, I was so glad to be with him when he was put to sleep. It could tell that feeling my touch and hearing my voice really comforted him. I miss him terribly, but ending his suffering was the biggest act of love I ever did for him.
Now I am bawling. lol



answers from Columbus on

I really struggled with this with my old cat. He lived to be 19. He was diagnosed with kidney disease at 14. It was arthritis in the end that "did him in."--- I think I actually waited too long. It is so hard to know what the right time is, when there is no clear cut crisis to point to.

This is what I asked myself: How often does he seem happy in the last day? week? month? When was the last time I saw him happy? How much pain does he seem to be in? How much of what he loves to do is unavailable or uncomfortable now because of pain?

For us, with his arthritis, I knew it was time, beyond a doubt, when one day I went to carefully (because he was frail & arthritic) put him on my lap (where he liked to sit and be petted) and he bit (no skin breaking, just the "ow you're hurting me, stop!" pinch) and scratched me because his body hurt. He was very stoic, and hid his pain for a long time. That was when I realized that he was probably in pain all the time, but was hiding it as best he could. And that was no way for him to live.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions