Euthanizing a Beloved Family Pet

      Euthanasia is a topic that many pet owners face as their animals get sick, injured, or near old age. The decision of whether or not to have your pet euthanized is a very personal one that must involve you, your family, your pet, and your veterinarian.

       Knowing when it is time to have a pet put to sleep is one of the most difficult aspects of the decision. No one wants to end their pet’s life too early, but many struggle to find the “right” time. When guiding clients in the decision-making process, I often have them think about their pet’s quality of life. Some things to consider are: is your pet in pain? Can your pet move around comfortably? Can your pet eat and drink? Does your pet still enjoy some of his or her favorite things like a special toy? When owners break down their pet’s life into smaller pieces, the choice sometimes becomes clear.

      No matter how sure an owner may be that it is the right time, putting a pet to sleep is a very emotional experience. It is helpful to be well informed about what to expect as there are a few decisions that need to be made regarding the euthanasia. Your veterinarian can guide you through the process and choices, but here I will describe some things you and your pet may experience.

      The first decision you’ll need to make is whether or not you and your family want to be present for the euthanasia. If you are present, an intravenous catheter is typically placed in your pet’s leg to allow the doctor to have access to their vein. Your pet may be taken away from you for this process – do not fret! The technicians that put in catheters are very skilled and the process is usually much quicker when a pet is away from their owner and not distracted. After the catheter, you can spend as much time with your pet as you would like. When you are ready, the doctor will come into the room and perform the euthanasia. Sometimes, a pet may be sedated prior to the final injection and this is a case-dependent procedure. The final injection is an overdose of an anesthetic that causes your pet’s heart, lungs, and brain to stop. It is a very peaceful process, they will feel no pain, and they will just fall gently to sleep. Some things you may see during the injection include your pet looking around and possible vocalizations. These are side effects of the anesthetic and rest assured that your pet is not in pain, they may just feel a little strange from the drug. After the injection, you may see muscle movements and your pet may take a few breaths. These are the final nerve firings and muscle spasms and occur after your pet has already passed away. Finally, they may go to the bathroom because they are relaxed and often times their eyes will not close. If you decide not to be present for the euthanasia, there will be loving people surrounding your pet, talking to them and petting them while they pass away. You can visit with your pet for as long as you would like, before and after the euthanasia.

      Another decision you will need to make is what to do with your pet’s remains. Taking them home for burial may be an option if you have a yard. Another option that many veterinary hospitals offer is cremation – ask your veterinarian about specific details.
      Euthanasia is a difficult topic to think about, but the ability to end suffering for your beloved companion can be a priceless gift. If you have questions about your pet or euthanasia, please give us a call: (925) 937-5000

Kerry Thode, DVM