It’s hard to know when the time is right for putting a pet to sleep, but knowing the signs to look for can help us to make the best decisions for our pets and for ourselves as pet owners. 

At Home Goodbye, I work alongside Annie Clark, Emergency and Critical Care Veterinary Nurse for over 11 years. Annie heads up the Client Care team, where she guides and supports owners when their pet reaches the end of its life. Together, we’ve identified some of the signs to look out for when making that difficult decision about putting a pet to sleep.


Signs to look out for in your pet

Aside from trauma incidents, which sadly tend to involve a faster decision-making process, knowing what to look for can help you prepare for the decision to say goodbye. Annie recognises that pet owners are often anxious about how they will know what’s happening, so she advises some practical, logical steps to monitoring your pet for signs that things may be changing or your pet may be struggling.

I will always say to the owner, what is your pet doing? What aren’t they doing? Are they having more good days than bad days? 

Consider …

  • Mobility – are they getting around normally, for instance is your dog enjoying walks, is your cat active or lethargic?
  • Appetite – any change? Are they eating and drinking well? 
  • Behaviour – has an expected behaviour, activity or routine changed, or a new, unusual behaviour started, such as seeking comfort or withdrawing from contact? 
  • Good days vs bad days – is there a balance or do bad days outweigh good?
  • Quality of life – although a pet may be staying fairly active and appear to enjoy meals, considering the overall quality of life context is important, especially if the pet has a condition such as arthritis, which means they are likely to be in pain. 


As we have a tendency to look hopefully for positive signs from our pets, putting a realistic measure on the quality of life is often something owners struggle with, so Annie also recommends keeping a diary: 


Just noting down the bad days alongside the good not only helps to keep track of what the pet is doing, but also helps owners as well as the vet to understand what’s going on, to gain an overall picture of quality of life.


Keeping track in this way can help identify any deterioration and may also help us, as pet owners, to recognise that our pet is not as well as we had hoped. On the positive side, it also helps to record and enjoy the good days.


Putting a pet to sleep is not an easy decision. Please reach out to your local vet for advice and remember that there are services out there to support you, like the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service.

You might also find it helpful to listen to this episode of The Consult Room podcast “When is it time to let them go?”…

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who’s worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK’s busiest veterinary hospitals. As Chief Vet in the Charity Sector, he leads a team of vets and nurses that treat thousands of pets every year.  Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.