As much as we may dread it, putting our beloved animals to sleep is the final step in our journeys with them. Ensuring a pain-free death through dog euthanasia is the last act of kindness that we can show our faithful companions.
Below, we’ll have an in-depth look at dog euthanasia. We will discuss how a vet approaches euthanizing a dog, how best to prepare your family for the sad event and we’ll give advice on how to deal with the loss and grief that follows. By educating yourself on this process, you can ensure that your dog’s last moments are filled with love and compassion.
What is Dog Euthanasia?
We all hope that our dogs will gently pass away in their sleep when they are old and grey. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some dogs have nasty injuries, develop debilitating diseases or old age simply takes its toll on their bodies. When your dog is in pain or has a bad quality of life, euthanasia is often the kindest thing to do.
Euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu” and “thanatos”, which mean “good death”. The aim of euthanasia is to humanely kill an animal without causing them any pain or suffering. Euthanizing a dog can also be referred to as “putting your dog to sleep” or “putting your dog down.” Euthanasia is performed by veterinarians and is considered to be the most painless, gentle way to kill an animal.
Euthanasia is a mercy killing. Dogs are usually euthanized when the chances of successful treatment or recovery are slim or unaffordable. These dogs are killed instead of being made to continue to live in pain. Sometimes, dogs in pounds or rescue shelters are euthanized if they are not considered to be adoptable or if the shelter is running out of space.
Dog Euthanasia Procedure
Upon arrival at the vet clinic, the veterinarian will often give your dog a sedative. Many dogs become anxious at vet clinics, and they will also pick up on your heightened emotions. Some dogs are also afraid of needles. The sedative will calm them and allow their last moments to be peaceful. Depending on the strength of the sedative, your dog may fall asleep at this point. Sedatives are not standard procedure at all veterinary clinics so be sure to ask your vet about it beforehand. If your dog is already very weak, they may not require a sedative.
When you are ready, the vet will administer the final injection. This injection contains pentobarbital, a seizure medication. In large doses, pentobarbital causes the brain and heart to shut down. This is a painless procedure. The injection is either administered intravenously into the dog’s leg, or its administered into the dog’s stomach. If it is injected into the leg, it usually takes effect in under a minute. It may take a little longer if the dog has poor circulation. If it’s administered into the stomach, it has a slower release and can take up to 15 minutes to have an effect.
As your dog passes away, they may give a small sigh or twitch. This can be alarming, but these are simply involuntary reflexes and air being exhaled by the lungs. Depending on whether they were already asleep when the pentobarbital was administered, your dog’s eyes may not fully close upon death. Sometimes the bladder may empty.
Should You Be There During the Euthanasia Process?
When you take your dog to be euthanized, the vet will ask you if you’d like to be present when your dog is put down. There is no right or wrong answer to this question.
Your faithful companion has stood loyally by your side for their whole life, this is your opportunity to repay the favor. However, watching your dog die can be very distressing. Hearing their final breath and watching their body slump may imprint on your mind forever. If you are upset, you may upset your dog too, making those final moments less than peaceful. Veterinarians and nurses have a lot of compassion for animals. If you can’t bear to be in the room, know that they will comfort your dog until the end.
Many owners don’t want the last face their dog sees to be that of a stranger. As painful as it is to say goodbye, a familiar face will calm your pet. Vet’s offices are frightening and your dog will look to you as a source of comfort. Try to remain calm and speak in a soothing voice. Staying with your pet until the end can often provide much-needed closure.
Cost of Dog Euthanasia
The cost of dog euthanasia differs greatly depending on which state you live in, and whether your dog is put down at home or at the vet clinic.
Having your dog euthanized at the vet clinic is often the cheapest option as the veterinarian doesn’t have to spend time or money traveling to your house. Vet clinic euthanasia can range from between $50 to $150. In-home euthanasia is more costly, ranging from $85 to $300, depending on how far your home is. Some vets may allow you to set up a repayment plan if you cannot afford to pay the full cost upfront.
If the veterinarian has never seen the dog that will be put down, they are legally required to perform an examination on the dog, which will lead to an exam fee. It is important to watch out for hidden costs that can add to the price of the euthanasia. These costs can include a trip/ travel charge, a surcharge for aggressive dogs that may bite, and additional charges for IV catheters and disposal of needles. Some veterinarians charge extra to sedate your dog. Many vets offer cremation services for an additional fee. It is a good idea to discuss these additional charges with your vet beforehand to avoid any costly surprises.
How to Prepare for Dog Euthanasia
The lead up to dog euthanasia can be a stressful time. Your dog doesn’t know what’s coming, but you do. Battling with your emotions while trying to make your dog’s last days enjoyable can be tough. Ensuring that you and your family are properly prepared for your dog’s final day will make the horrible experience a little easier and help reduce regrets.
Allow the Family Some Time
Give yourself and your family a few days to spend quality time with your dog. This may include one final run around the park or simply sitting peacefully with your pooch. Each member of your family may grieve in different ways, so try to be patient with each other.
Planning a “perfect last day” is a wonderful send-off for your dog and may give your family some closure. Spoil your pet with all the treats they usually only get on special occasions and reminisce about all of the fun times you’ve shared with your animal.
Prepare the Children
Watching a pet pass away can be traumatizing for children. For many kids, it may be their first experience with death. Ensuring that they are properly prepared for their pet’s passing will allow them to grieve in a healthy manner.
It’s important for children to understand why their dog is being euthanized. If they don’t understand that their dog is in pain and can no longer be helped, euthanasia can seem very cruel. Clearly explain why this is the best option for their dog and be prepared to answer many questions about death.
It might be traumatizing for children to be present when the dog is being euthanized, but allowing them to be involved in the lead-up and burial process may help them come to terms with what is happening. Creating a “perfect last day” for the dog, planning a memorial ceremony, or crafting a scrapbook dedicated to their pet may help. There are also many books available to help guide your children through the grieving process.
Find a Vet to Come to Your Home
If possible, it is a good idea to find a vet who can come to your house to euthanize your dog. Transporting a sick animal as well as your children and other family members to a vet clinic with small, cramped offices can add extra stress to an already emotional experience. By allowing the vet to come to you, you can remove some of the pressures and logistical problems.
This also helps to reduce anxiety for your dog. Many dogs find the vet’s office to be a stressful environment associated with confusion and pain. Allowing your dog to pass away peacefully, surrounded by familiar smells and comforts is a great gift to give them. It may also help your other pets to see your dog pass away. Animals feel loss too, and pets can become unsettled when their sick friend leaves and never comes home. They are confused and often search the house looking for the missing dog. Allowing them to witness the euthanasia will help them to understand what has happened and gives them the opportunity to grieve.
In-home euthanasia is often the best option for your dog, but it may not be the best option for your family. Some people are worried that their home will be associated with the death of a beloved pet, and others simply don’t want to be there when their pet passes away. These are all things that need to be taken into consideration. Weigh your options and make your decision before the sad day comes so that you minimize regrets.
Bring a Blanket Along
If you choose to have your dog put down at the vet’s office, bring along their favorite blanket. The familiar feel and smell of the blanket with soothe your pet and help them feel less anxious in a strange environment. The most important thing is to make your pet feel as calm as possible. Don’t bring along any toys that may overstimulate them. Leave your dog’s collar on until after they have passed as removing it may also excite them. Ask the clinic to book the euthanasia appointment during a quiet time. The reduced noise and commotion will help your dog stay calm.
Dealing with Dog Euthanasia Grief
It is important to give yourself time and space to mourn the death of your dog. The loss of a pet is not an insignificant thing. We welcome them into our homes and they become part of our families. It is not a sign of weakness to mourn the bond between ourselves and man’s best friend.
The Mental Toll
The loss of a beloved pet causes great sadness and grief in pet owners. Dog euthanasia can also cause a lot of guilt as the owners take responsibility for when their pet will die. All of these emotions are a normal part of the grieving process but allowing yourself to wallow in grief for too long can be unhealthy. If you find yourself struggling to come to terms with the loss, consider reaching out to a pet bereavement support service or a grief counselor. You do not need to feel ashamed of the love you had for your pet and the loss you feel now that they are gone.
Tips for Dealing with Dog Euthanasia Grief
When euthanasia is involved, pet owners often start grieving for their pets before they’ve even been put to sleep. Use the days leading up to euthanasia wisely to help minimize grief and regret. It is helpful to create a list of things you’d like to do for your dog before they pass on. Take them for a walk around their favorite park, feed them their favorite treats, and spend meaningful time with them.
On the day, create a loving and calm environment for your dog and yourself. Some children are too young to understand what is happening and may become distraught. In these cases, it is best to have a friend or family member look after your kids while you spend time with your dog. If you live alone, be sure to have a support network of friends and family on-call to offer you comfort.
It may be helpful to keep a lock of your dog’s hair or their old collar as a token to remember them by. These items may also help other animals at home. The smell of their old friend will comfort them as they mourn. Your house will feel empty for a while. You may find yourself and your family members moving through the stages of grief at different rates. Be patient with one another, you are all hurting, even if it manifests in different ways. Don’t ignore your grief, try to tackle grief head-on. As you come to terms with your loss, take comfort in knowing that you gave your dog a painless and peaceful death.
There are many burial options available for your pet, at a variety of costs. Even though it’s a hard thing to think about, try to research burial options before you euthanize your dog to make sure that your preferred option is available.
There are two types of cremation available, group cremation and individual cremation. Group cremations are less expensive and involve multiple dogs being created at the same time. You do not receive your dog’s ashes after a group cremation.
If you chose to have your dog individually cremated, then you will receive their ashes after the cremation. Some pet crematoriums will allow you some time to have a small memorial before the cremation begins. In other instances, the crematorium might collect your dog’s body from the vet clinic or your home, and deliver the ashes once the cremation is complete. Some crematoriums will include an urn in the cost of the cremation, others may offer urns at an additional cost.
Some cities have pet cemeteries. Owners can select a casket and a headstone and can hold a small grave-side memorial. In some cases, you can even arrange side by side burial spaces so that you and your pet may be buried next to each other when the time comes.
Some families may want to bury their dog’s body in their backyard. While this is usually not a problem in rural areas, some cities do have laws against home burials so be sure to check your local ordinances. If you do bury your dog at home, be sure to dig the grave deep enough. It is recommended that dog graves are at least three feet deep to deter predators.
You can search for your nearest pet cemetery or crematorium on the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories website.
Should You Euthanize Your Dog?
Many factors play a role when deciding whether or not to euthanize a dog. Often, the dog’s quality of life is weighed up against the cost and probability of successful treatment. No animal lover wants their pet to suffer, but treating a serious disease can be extremely costly and many owners cannot afford the mounting medical bills.
Your veterinarian should be your first port of call. They can provide you with various treatment options to consider and advise how to proceed. At the end of the day, however, the decision to euthanize your dog is up to you. Although it can be heartbreaking and seemingly cruel, ending your dog’s suffering is often the most humane thing to do.
Sometimes, it is hard to tell if a pet is in pain and ready for euthanasia. Sickly pets have good and bad days. Signs that your dog may be in pain include a loss of appetite, a change in bowel movements, excessive sleeping or no longer sleeping through the night. If you are hoping for an improvement in your dog’s condition, it is helpful to set a time limit. Obviously you don’t want to euthanize your dog too early, but waiting too long can make your pets last days agonizing.
Dog Euthanasia – FAQ
The decision to euthanize a pet is not an easy one. Owners often let their own fears and sadness prevent them from euthanizing their pets before they suffer from too much pain. Gaining some knowledge about euthanasia and the process involved may help owners make an informed and timely decision. Below, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions about dog euthanasia.
The core aim of euthanasia is to provide a pain-free death. The chemicals used in euthanasia provide a quick death, ensuring that there is no time for the animal to suffer. The medication that is administered to your dog is essentially an overdose of anesthetics. This medication renders your dog unconscious first and then shuts down their heart and brain. If the dog is particularly anxious or restless, a sedative is administered to calm them. This further reduces their awareness of pain. The only pain a dog may feel is the slight pinch from the euthanasia needle.
Every part of the euthanasia process is designed to ensure that the animal being put down does not suffer or feel pain. Deliberately causing the death of an animal can seem cruel, but if the animal has a bad quality of life, with no hope of recovery, euthanasia is the kindest, most humane option.
When a pet is in pain or has a disease, they don’t have the ability to help themselves. They rely on their owners to provide care for them and heal them. If the required medication and treatment is too expensive, or if there is little chance of recovery, the most humane thing a pet owner can do is euthanize the dog to end its suffering.
Dogs don’t know when they are being euthanized, but they can often tell that something unusual or worrisome is about to happen. Dogs are very adept at picking up on human emotions. They will notice your stress and sadness during the lead up to the euthanasia and may respond with nervousness and anxiety of their own.
This is a very common fear of pet owners. Rest assured, your pet will not wake up after being euthanized. The medication that is administered to your dog contains a large amount of anesthetic. This will allow your dog to first fall unconscious and then their brain and heart will shut down. Your veterinarian will listen closely to your dog’s heart to ensure that it stops beating before pronouncing your dog dead.
Sometimes your dog may let out a gasp or sigh, or their muscles may twitch. These are not signs of life, but simply reflexes and the air leaving your dog’s lungs.
Legally, a vet is allowed to euthanize any dog as long as they have the owner’s permission. What may stop a vet from euthanizing a dog is their own moral dilemma. Many vets refuse to perform what is known as “convenience euthanasia.”
Veterinarians are happy enough to perform euthanasia if the dog in question is sick, old, or in pain. Convenience euthanasia occurs when pet owners ask the vet to euthanize a dog simply because their dog has become too troublesome, or doesn’t fit into their lifestyle.
If there is nothing physically wrong with the dog, and the dog is not a danger to anyone, it can be rehomed. Euthanasia in these circumstances is an extreme solution and many vets will only consider it as a last resort. If a vet believes that a dog can be reasonably and successfully treated, rehabilitated, or rehomed, the vet may say no to euthanasia.
This is a question that haunts many dog owners. Is it wrong to euthanize your faithful companion after so many years together? The answer to this question is unique to each dog owner, and some owners may never be at ease with the answer.
At the end of the day, you have to be content that you are proceeding with euthanasia for the right reasons. Old dogs can suffer from many ailments. They often go blind, or deaf or suffer from arthritis and joint pain. As they get older they are more susceptible to disease like cancer.
Having spent years with your dog, you know their moods and body language. You will be able to tell when they have lost their spark and joy for life. When the pain becomes too much for them, and they are no longer happy, they rely on you to help alleviate their pain.
When we welcome pets into our families, we take on a lot of responsibilities. We become responsible for feeding them, playing with them, ensuring their safety, and exercising them. Our final duty to our pets is to take responsibility for deciding how and when to end their lives. Pets gift us with unconditional love and loyalty. An owner’s final gift in return is the gift of a pain-free, peaceful death.