Euthanasia is a difficult subject to discuss, but for many pet owners this is the process that allows them to say goodbye to their pets in a peaceful manner while preserving their dignity and quality of life to the very end. The euthanasia process itself is often not well understood by owners. In some cases, this can cause confusion and additional upset when a pet needs to be put to rest. Knowing what to expect can help prepare owners and their families – especially their children and other pets - for this sad but ultimately necessary event.
Overview of the Process
A quick and painless ending of life is the goal of euthanasia. The animal’s loss of physiologic function during euthanasia should happen in the following order, to reduce the risk of it suffering from fear, anxiety or pain:
- Rapid loss of consciousness, followed by:
- Loss of muscle function, followed by:
- Loss of lung (respiratory) and heart (cardiac) function, and finally followed by:
- Permanent loss of all brain and central nervous system function.
Most veterinarians don’t euthanize a dog without first sedating it with an injectable pre-anesthetic or other medication. The purpose of the sedative is to quiet and relax the animal and help the veterinarian inject the euthanasia solution accurately and efficiently.
The Process Itself
One of the most common ways to euthanize dogs is to administer an intravenous injection of a massive dose of barbiturate drugs. The euthanasia solution normally is injected into a vein in one of the dog’s front legs. It may take the veterinarian some time to access an appropriate vein, especially in animals that are severely ill or quite elderly. Once the drug is administered, death usually is almost instantaneous. Many dogs vocalize at the last moment or seem to exhale a large breath after dying, and their bowels and bladder may relax. This is completely normal. The veterinarian will check the animal’s heart to confirm that it is no longer beating. In the end, the humaneness and painlessness of the procedure is what is most important of all.
Other factors that influence how euthanasia is accomplished include the safety of veterinary personally and observers, the impact on nearby animals and the sadness and grief of owners. Veterinarians who euthanize pets must be familiar with the pharmaceutical agent, equipment and technique that they are using and have well-trained people present to hold the dog and attend to the needs of any owners who are there.
There is no right or wrong way to feel or act about euthanizing a pet. Owners will each grieve in their own way, because everyone handles euthanasia differently. Most veterinary personnel are especially accommodating during this difficult time. Tell your veterinarian if you want to be present and/or hold your dog during the procedure, if you want a few moments with your pet after it has been euthanized, or any other requests that you might have. Give a lot of thought about if and how to involve family children in the decision-making and actual euthanasia process.