It can be hard to determine if or when the time is right to humanely end your dog's pain and suffering. The euthanasia of a beloved pet is a difficult and solemn time for everyone involved. However, it may be less of a strain if you have prepared in advance for the euthanasia process and you know what to expect.
Euthanasia is defined as the act of humanely ending the life of a living being in order to end extreme suffering (often as the result of a serious and irreversible medical condition). In animals, euthanasia is often called "putting to sleep" or "putting down."
Why Vets Use Euthanasia
Euthanasia in animals is intended to end life when there is little or no hope of recovery from illness or injury. As a pet owner, the decision whether or not to euthanize can be a very difficult one. Your veterinarian will help guide you and your family through the decision-making process and help you keep the best interest of your pet in mind. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Just know that your decision is the right one if it was made with your pet's best interest in mind.
Once you have made the difficult choice of euthanasia for your dog, it is important that you know what to expect before, during, and after your dog is put down.
Before the Euthanasia
First, decide if you would like to be present during the procedure. As hard as it may be to watch your pet pass away, remember that your presence will be a comfort in your pet's final moments. Also, decide if you would like family members or friends to be present. Talk to your veterinarian about your decision, and ask any questions that come to mind. If you want the euthanasia to take place at home, find out if that is an option. Your vet might be able to recommend a mobile vet if they don't do house calls. Ask about the vet's process during the euthanasia. Be aware that there will likely be a consent form for you to sign before your vet can proceed.
Next, make a decision about aftercare and notify your vet. Many veterinary hospitals work with companies that can arrange for individual cremation (and, in some cases, burial). Some owners will opt for communal cremation (sometimes called group or mass cremation). In both the above cases, the company will pick up your dog's remains directly from the hospital. Alternatively, you may wish to bring your dog's remains home so you can handle aftercare on your own.
Try to settle up the bill in advance. The last thing you will want is a tearful wait in the lobby to pay your bill after your pet is gone.
Take time to say goodbye. Talk to your dog, hug your pet, and express your love. Allow friends and family members to do the same.
During the Euthanasia
In dogs and cats, euthanasia typically involves the intravenous injection of a solution of pharmaceutical agents that will quickly stop the heart. In most cases, this solution is predominantly made up of pentobarbital, though some euthanasia solutions also contain phenytoin. The solution is usually a pink, purple, or blue tint and may be slightly thick. The most effective way to administer the solution is through a vein. Injection into a body cavity will often work, but not as quickly.
Your vet may prefer to have an intravenous catheter placed in your dog. This will allow easier access to the vein and make the injection process quick and painless for your dog. It may also help decrease the chance of complications during the injection. Your vet might administer a sedative to your dog prior to administering the actual euthanasia solution. This will allow your pet to be extremely relaxed and sleepy before the next step.
The euthanasia solution is then injected into your pet's vein, where it rapidly travels throughout the body. Within just a few seconds, your dog will become unconscious, experiencing no pain or suffering. Breathing will slow down and then stop over the next several seconds. Cardiac arrest will soon follow, resulting in death. Typically, a peaceful death occurs within 30 seconds of intravenous administration.
After the Euthanasia
Once the solution has been administered, your vet will listen to your dog's heart to confirm the death. Your vet will let you know that your dog has passed on. At this time, your vet will probably step out of the room to give you a few moments alone with your dog.
This is an emotional time, and the veterinary staff will provide plenty of tissues and privacy. You are in a safe environment where everyone understands what you are going through. Stay as short or as long as you are comfortable. If you have already made aftercare and payment arrangements, you can simply slip out when you are ready.
Be aware that your dog's body may release urine, feces, and possibly other bodily fluids upon death. This occurs due to the relaxation of all muscles. Know that your dog's eyes will remain open. Sometimes, there are muscle spasms or sounds as the air and energy leave your dog's body. This does not mean your dog is still alive; it is simply part of the process that occurs after death.
Grieving the Loss of Your Pet
Now the process of grieving will begin. Grief is different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Remember the good times you had with your dog, and know that your pet would thank you for relieving its suffering.
Consider doing something special to memorialize your unique and much-loved companion. One idea is to make clay or ink paw print and frame it next to a photo of your dog. You may wish to plant a tree or other plant in memory of your dog. Another therapeutic exercise during grief is to write about it. A poem, story, or written tribute can help you say goodbye to your beloved dog in words.