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Quality of Life Part 5: The process of euthanasia

By July 17, 2019 April 20th, 2022 Uncategorized


In the past blog posts, we have examined determining quality of life (QoL) and trying to improve it.  Unfortunately, there are times when we are unable to help our friends.  In these cases we must consider euthanasia.  Euthanasia comes from the Greek words eu meaning easy or good and thanos meaning death.  While many do not consider any death good, we have to realize that there are times when we know our pets are suffering, are in pain, or will be going through a protracted death.  In these cases it is fair and humane to view euthanasia as just another treatment option, no different than using insulin for a diabetic patient. Our goal is the care and comfort of our pets and in some cases this is the only truly humane option.

For many people this may be their first experience with death and likely the first time having to make multiple decisions about the process.  During this post we would like to explain the process and the options that go along with the process.


The first decision to make is under what circumstances the euthanasia is to occur.  Is this going to be at home, in the office, or at your pet’s favorite spot outside.  Many patients struggle to stay mobile when they are sick and are unable to walk into a clinic.  Often times, a pet can get very anxious with the car ride into the office, other pets enjoy the car trip and this gives the owner some extra time with their pet.  In either case it is important to think about where you would like this to happen.  Please keep in mind that some people will avoid an area where a pet has been euthanized.  We have had many clients that get very upset if they are brought into the same examination room where a beloved pet was euthanized, also people may avoid an area outdoors where the pet has been euthanized or even have trouble walking into a living room that was the final location of their pet.

If you choose to have a home euthanasia it is important to arrange the procedure with the veterinarian.  While we do not typically make house calls, we will for a euthanasia because we understand how difficult and painful this decision is.  While no one likes to pick the exact time for euthanasia, it is important that all parties involved are aware of the timing.  In most cases we will try to accommodate people’s schedules and do this before or after hours, sometimes on weekends as well.  If you do decide to have a home euthanasia, there are some things that you will want to have handy.  We will normally like to have the pet on some type of non permeable bedding as they can leak urine or feces after the injection is given.  Also, a well lit area makes it easier to have access to the vein to give the medication.  If you are burying your pet at home, it is best to have the grave prepared prior to the euthanasia.

If you choose to have a euthanasia at the office, it is best to try to pick a time late in the day, or very early so that it will be a little quieter, also many hospitals, including our new facility have special rooms for euthanasia that are typically more comfortable and home like and less clinical than other exam rooms.  Additionally, if you think your pet may get anxious during the ride over we can prescribe medications that can ease the anxiety.

The Process

Regardless of the location of the euthanasia, there are several steps and decisions that must be made.  The first choice you will need to make is are you going to be present for the procedure.  Over the years, we have had many clients who could not be present for the euthanasia, some of these people would leave the pets with us knowing that we will be as caring and kind as they would be and that someone will be with their pet at the end.  Other times, people have left after a sedative is given, there is no single choice and each family should decide for themselves what is best.

Typically, unless pre-planned arrangements have been made, there will be some paper work to fill out.  We are required to ask and have the owner sign a statement attesting that the pet has not bitten anyone in the last 10 days.  We will also ask you to decide on the care of the body.  There are several options for this, including taking your pet home for burial or cremation.  If you choose to bury your pet at home, it is best to check on local ordinances concerning burial.  Normally, no one will say anything but it may be worth finding out the rules.  Cremation is by far the most popular option in today’s mobile society.  There are 2  choices for cremation.  The first is a group cremation.  In a group cremation, several pets are placed in the crematory at the same time.  The ashes will generally be co-mingled and spread at the cemetery.  In a private cremation, each pet is individually placed in the crematory and the ashes are then returned in a container.  Each cemetery will have a different protocol to ensure that your pet is actually returned to you.  The cemetery will then return the ashes to the hospital, generally within a few days.  There are many different options for containers.  The types of urns can be overwhelming.  In our hospital, there are several urns included in the price of the cremation, but we also have many other options available.

Recently, there has been an increase in other options, such as making some of the ashes into jewelry or art glass pieces.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you are comfortable with the final solution, you can always ask the hospital to hold your pet’s body for a little while as you make a decision.

In the room

When it is time and all the paperwork and decisions are made we will begin the process.  We will normally give a sedative to the pet by injection.  This injection may be given in the muscle which can sometime sting for a few seconds.  The sedative will take 5-7 minutes to work, this helps your pet to relax and sometimes even fall asleep. After the medication has worked we will then place either an IV catheter or a butterfly catheter.  This allows us access to the vein to give the euthanasia solution.  The medication that is used is a barbiturate and will affect the brain first, causing sedation and a coma like state, it then slows the respiration and heart causing a quick, comfortable death.  After the medication is given the veterinarian will listen the the heart and pronounce the death.  One thing to note, animals do not close their eyes after death.  This is because it takes active control to close the eyes and move the muscles around the eyes.  Additionally, many animals will urinate or defecate after they die.

When we are finished we will try to leave you alone with your pet to begin or complete the grieving process. Sometimes it is nice to just sit with your pet one last time.  Afterwards, we will prepare the body for the trip to the crematory.

It is always a difficult time when a pet dies or is euthanized, but sometimes just understanding the process can make it a little bit easier.  If you every have any questions about this process, do not hesitate to contact our office.


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