How to Tell If It's Time to Euthanize Your Pet

"It might be something totally different for me than it is for you," she said. "However, people who know me know when I am happy or sad. I know when my dogs are happy or sad, even if I can't define happiness for my dog."

Happiness, it seems, is like that old definition of pornography. You may not know how to define it, but you know it when you see it.

The study involved 29 dogs, or patients, as the vets call them, that were diagnosed with cancer. The owners filled out two surveys. One asked the owners to describe what their animal had been like six months before the diagnosis, and the second evaluated the pet's "quality of life" at the time of the diagnosis.

Additional surveys, of both the owners and the vets, were conducted three weeks and six weeks after the initiation of chemo.

Play behavior, and the perception of happiness, as well as the clinical findings, surfaced as the strongest indicators of how the animal was progressing.

Perhaps surprisingly, only one of the 29 dogs had to be euthanized during the study period. Two thirds of the dogs responded favorably to the treatment, although one third did not. Iliopoulou is planning a follow-study to see how the dogs fared over a period of several months, and she plans to continue her research on the human-animal bond.

This is a small study, involving only dogs, and only cancer, so it's hard to make broad conclusions. But the researchers believe that the study clearly shows that teaming vets with owners to continually evaluate the pet's "quality of life" can make that dreadful decision a little easier.

Of course, that's a difficult course for many to follow, because long-term medical care for a pet can rival human health care costs.

But the basic findings of the questions that need to be answered might be helpful for many owners.

Does the pet still like to play? Does it seem happy?

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