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Do Dogs Feel Pain When Put To Sleep?

↯ Key takeaway points

  • The euthanasia procedure for dogs is almost completely painless.
  • Dogs may feel a brief feeling of dizziness when the anesthesia takes effect.
  • Euthanasia may be right for dogs experiencing an inability to eat, chronic pain, inability to move freely, and no enjoyment in life.
  • There are advantages and disadvantages to euthanasia at home or at the veterinary clinic.
  • After euthanasia, expect your dog to twitch, urinate, and defecate, but they are not feeling pain.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Thursday 30 June 2022
Last updated on
Thursday 20 July 2023
Do Dogs Feel Pain When Put To Sleep?
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Deciding when it’s time to relieve your dog’s suffering can be a difficult and emotional decision. One question that many pet parents have is whether dogs feel pain when they are put to sleep. This concern can make it challenging to make the final call, especially when you’re already grieving.

Fortunately, you don’t have to face this alone. It’s natural to seek guidance and support during this solemn time. By preparing in advance and knowing what to expect during the euthanasia process, you can alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty.

So, do dogs feel pain when they are put down? This is a difficult topic, but we’re here to help you understand the facts.

Do Dogs Feel Pain When Put To Sleep

The euthanasia procedure for dogs is designed to be as painless as possible. While your dog may feel a small prick from the needle, the injection itself is not painful. Every dog reacts differently to pain and discomfort, so keep this in mind as you go in for the procedure.

If your dog is already experiencing a painful health condition, be prepared to keep them calm and comforted. It’s very important that your dog is kept calm during the process so that your vet can go through the process as smoothly and painlessly as possible.

What Do Dogs Feel When They Are Put Down?

As with all anesthetics, your dog may experience a brief feeling of dizziness as the dose takes effect. If you can imagine going under general anesthesia for surgery, it is likely similar. Once your dog is unconscious, it will not feel any pain or discomfort associated with the euthanasia drug.

General anesthesia is more than just being asleep, though it likely feels that way. The anesthetized brain cannot respond to pain signals or reflexes.

When Is Euthanasia Right for Dogs?

There may be times when euthanasia is the kindest choice for your pet. This may include when they are in constant pain, cannot move easily, have lost interest in their favorite activities or spending time with you, or have been unable to eat for a prolonged period of time. Deciding to say goodbye to your beloved pet can be challenging, but it is a compassionate option when they are no longer enjoying their life.

Should Your Dog Be Euthanized at Home or Away?

By planning your pet’s euthanasia, you save yourself extra stress when it comes to the procedure. One of the most important decisions to make is whether to have the procedure done at home, or at the veterinary clinic. When discussing if dogs feel pain when put to sleep, it may be comforting to know that there is more than one option for your pet’s comfort.

At Home

The main advantage of at-home euthanasia is privacy. Pet parents can grieve alone rather than in front of other pet owners. They also don’t need to worry about driving or walking home while grieving after the procedure. Other advantages include keeping your pet comfortable in their own home, and no car ride that could possibly stress them out.

There are disadvantages to at-home euthanasia, however. The main issue is the lack of control over the environment. In someone’s home, the lighting may be poor. Your vet may have difficulty finding a vein, potentially drawing out the process for them. A drug may not work as expected. And, at-home euthanasia can be more expensive in some cases.

At The Clinic

The main advantage of euthanasia in the vet clinic is a controlled environment. Your vet will have access to everything they need. The other advantage of euthanasia in-clinic is the case of needing to go for emergency euthanasia.

At-home euthanasia works best when you can plan in advance and have time to do so. If your pet suddenly becomes extremely unwell and requires euthanasia quickly, you will need to make an emergency appointment with your vet in the clinic.

The downside to euthanasia at the clinic is, of course, a potential lack of privacy. While your vet will afford you the privacy you need with your pet, you may still need to be around other pet owners as you arrive and leave. This can be distressing for some, as it is a very emotional time.

What to Prepare Before Euthanasia

To make your pet’s visit to the vet as stress-free as possible, it’s best to book their appointment towards the end of the day. This way, the waiting room will be less crowded, and you’ll have more privacy during the consultation. During the visit, your vet may need the assistance of a veterinary nurse or assistant to perform certain procedures. If you have a preferred nurse, you can ask if they’re available to be present during the appointment.

When it comes to euthanasia, many veterinary practices allow you to pay in advance for the procedure or make payment after a few days. It’s also important to decide on aftercare options beforehand so that you can inform your vet of your wishes.

Veterinary practices often work with companies that provide cremation services. Depending on your preference, the cremation can be individual or communal. These companies can pick up your pet from the hospital, which can be helpful during a difficult time.

What to Expect During Euthanasia

In most cases, an indwelling catheter is inserted into your pet’s vein to make sure that the drug is delivered quickly. The first injection is usually sterile saline to make sure that the catheter is correctly placed. If your dog is stressed or in extreme pain, a sedative will be administered next.

Then, a single dose of a drug used for euthanasia will be given. The solution is usually barbiturate, the same type of drug uses for general anesthesia. This drug may appear bright pink or blue – this is for safety so that anyone can tell at a glance what drug is in the syringe.

As the drug is administered, your dog will lose consciousness quickly, just as they would when going under general anesthesia for surgery. However, the drug also acts to stop the heart and lungs humanely as well.

Since your dog is unconscious at this point, it will not feel anything. Most times, dogs pass away so quickly and smoothly that it can be difficult to tell when they have passed. Sometimes, a pet undergoing euthanasia will give a few last breaths after passing away.

This is normal, and the result of involuntary muscle contractions. Along with this, as your pet’s muscles relax, they may urinate or defecate or show some muscle twitching. This is completely normal and part of the process – your dog will not feel discomfort or distress at this point and will have already passed.

What to Expect After Euthanasia

Know that after your dog has passed, they may still twitch or urinate and defecate. Their eyes will also stay open. These are not signs that your pet is still alive, or that your dog is feeling pain, so be prepared for these things to happen as you say your goodbyes.

Once your pet has passed peacefully, your vet may step out of the room to give you some time alone with them. This is an emotional time, and the staff at the veterinary hospital will allow you privacy. Know that you are in a safe environment where others understand what you are going through.

You may stay for as little or as long as you need. If you have already made your payment and aftercare arrangements, you can simply leave when you feel ready.

Grieving the Loss of Your Dog

Your pet is a part of your family. So, it’s perfectly normal and understandable to grieve when your dog passes away. Give yourself permission to mourn your loss and understand that it will take time to heal. Oftentimes, sharing your grief with family and friends is helpful during this difficult time.

If you’re having a hard time with the loss of your beloved pet, don’t be afraid to seek comfort and reassurance from others. Grief looks different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to go through it. Know that your pet would thank you for relieving their suffering and that you did the best thing for them.

So hold me now just one more time

and let me hear you say,

because you care so much for me,

you’ll let me go today.

“May I Go Now?” by Susan A. Jackson

It’s never easy saying goodbye to your beloved pet. It’s tough to think clearly when you’re grieving such a loss. But rest assured that the process is almost completely painless and is peaceful and that dogs do not feel pain when put to sleep.

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