End of Life Decisions

When is it time to say good-bye?

Knowing when the time to say good-bye is approaching brings with it many emotions and feelings that can make end of life decisions difficult.

For many patients, cancer will result in their death. While we would all like our pets to die in their sleep, this is extremely uncommon and most pets who die naturally suffer pain and discomfort at the end. Euthanasia is the final gift we can give our much-loved pets when the time is right.

The challenge is that it can be hard to know how soon that time will come. It’s rather like being on a slope halfway down a mountain– you know that at the end you will be at the bottom, but you don’t know how steep the slope or how fast the descent will be.

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Knowing that your pet has a cancer which will ultimately be the reason that you need to let them go can be difficult and distressing. It is emotionally exhausting for everyone involved in the care of that pet. However, it also gives us the chance to plan their end of life so that their final day is as good as it can be.

Many pets with cancer are otherwise well but the location of the cancer may mean that one aspect of their life is poor. As a pet owner, you know your pet better than anyone and, in most cases, will know when it is time to let them go. However, if you are not certain you will know then talk to your vet about the things to look out for.

Generally, most of us feel that it is better to let a pet pass away before their quality of life is seriously affected. Many owners report that their only regret was waiting too long before ending their pet’s suffering.

When making end of life decisions, there is a lot to think about including:

  • Whether you would like to have euthanasia performed at home or at the vets. Many vet practices have a special room where they will meet with you to discuss and perform the procedure.
  • Does your pet have a favourite place, food or activity that you would like them to be able to experience on its final day?
  • Who needs to say goodbye and who wants to be present during the euthanasia procedure?
  • What would like to happen after your pet has passed away?
    • Do you want any mementos such as hair or paw prints?
    • Do you want to have your pet cremated or would you prefer to have them buried?
    • Do you want to have an individual cremation and get your pets ashes back to keep or scatter at a place that was special for you both?


It can be helpful to start having conversations about these issues well in advance of your pet’s final day. Keeping a note of the things you will need or want for that day makes it easier to remember them when the time comes.

After your pet has passed away it is natural to feel grief. This may manifest as anger, guilt and/or sadness. Grief varies widely, with some people feeling affected for a prolonged period and others seeming to recover quite quickly. It can resurface at any time in the future.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of your pet. We are here to help you and there are organisations that can support you during the grieving process. Society is starting to appreciate how the loss of a pet can be at least as difficult and sometimes worse than the loss of a family member.

Our Pet loss page offers more advice and the links to several sites that offer support to those who have lost a pet.

Our Friends Remembered page offers you an opportunity to post a remembrance of your pet on our website.