End-of-life care for cats and dogs

27 February 2024 - 3 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Image of a grey old dog with its owner

We know that the hardest part of owning a pet is saying goodbye. While this period is understandably emotional and sad, it also comes with questions, like how to make your pet’s final moments comfortable.

We discuss what end-of-life care is, how it works, if it’s appropriate for your cat or dog and how to access resources to help you decide when it’s time to say goodbye.

Read below, or watch our video – whatever you find the most comfortable:

What’s end-of-life, or palliative, care?

End-of-life or palliative care means treating or managing uncurable or life-ending conditions. It’s the process of making your pet as comfortable as possible by managing pain and other symptoms, but it also involves mental and social support.

It typically has a holistic approach; it’s not just medication or pain relief - it’s keeping your pet overall healthy and happy.

If your pet’s diagnosed with a condition termed by your vet as degenerative, chronic or terminal, then end-of-life care may be appropriate.

It’s important to remember that this will look different for every pet. However, having an honest conversation with your vet is the essential first step.

Is end-of-life care appropriate for your pet?

This is up to your vet and your pet. You must talk to your vet, as they’ll accurately assess if end-of-life care is right.

Your vet has two goals: providing the best quality care and ensuring that your pet does not live longer than they can be kept comfortable. In other words, it's making sure your pet isn't suffering from their condition.   

 So, in some conditions, it might not be appropriate for your pet to start palliative care.

Typically, if end-of-life care is deemed appropriate, it’ll involve:

Pain relief

Lots of chronic conditions can cause pain, so pain management or relief will likely be in most end-of-life care plans. There are lots of different types of pain relief available, so your pet may be on more than one type of medication to keep them comfortable.

Conditions like arthritis, for example, are common in older pets and require multimodal pain management.

Appetite management

Appetite becomes a big issue in older pets, particularly cats. Nausea and vomiting can be an issue, which can be managed with medication, while their appetite can be encouraged with appetite stimulants.

We need to make sure our pets are physically and mentally nourished during this phase, and eating is an essential part of that.


For some animals, mobility becomes an issue during this stage. You want them to be able to get around on their own, and if this means using a sling or a cart, or a helping hand to get up on the bed or sofa, that’s okay.

If they can’t, we want to make sure we can help them get up and about so they can do things like go to the bathroom.      


Dogs and cats who struggle with mobility will likely have decreased control of their bladder and bowels.

It isn’t glamorous, but keeping your pet clean and comfortable will make their last weeks and months much better.

Keeping them engaged and happy

If it’s safe and possible, physical activity or physiotherapy can play a key part in palliative care for dogs and cats.

Mental stimulation is still essential, so using things like puzzles, doggy TV, taking them outside for a sniff and incorporating them into your daily life will make them happier and help keep their brain functioning as well as possible.

How to decide when it’s time to say goodbye

It’s up to you and your vet. It’s your vet’s job to bring up euthanasia at the right time, and they’ll only introduce it as an option when they think it’s needed. However, if you feel the time is right, don't be afraid to mention this to the vet.

Vets do everything they can to make the process stress-free, painless and peaceful. It’s likely your vet is also a pet owner, and they won’t take this decision lightly.

It’s a difficult question to answer, but ultimately, it’s about how much pain and discomfort your pet is in – sometimes, it’s the kindest option.

Remember that there are grieving resources you can access in the weeks, months and years following a pet’s death. For those moments when you feel overwhelmed, we’re here – we’ve teamed up with Blue Cross to give our policyholders a dedicated pet bereavement support line.