This article may not be for everyone. Some of the article may be upsetting to read. Many people would rather not know what is occurring when their loved one is being put to sleep, but there are some who may draw comfort from knowing what to expect and what is going on.
Euthanasia is ultimately a peaceful and painless procedure.
Your vet may give your dog a sedative injection first if they are anxious. This will make them fall into a deep sleep .
The euthanasia drug is given by injection, usually into the dog’s vein through a canula. It will make them unconscious first before it stops the heart and lungs. The injection is pain free.
Its OK not to be OK: losing a pet is a bereavement and support is available.
Leaving aside all the emotional aspects of euthanasia, the actual process of having your dog put to sleep can be very daunting and full of concerns, especially if you have not been through this process before. In this article, we aim to take you step by step through the process, explaining what to expect, so that when the time comes to say goodbye, you know what will happen and you can concentrate on supporting and grieving for your beloved companion.
It is important to remember that euthanasia, is ultimately a peaceful and painless procedure.
Sometimes, we do not get the opportunity to ‘plan’ the time and date when we will say goodbye. Quite often, circumstances occur which mean that we may have to make the decision sooner than anticipated. If you do have the time, try and bring something with you, which will help keep your loved one calm and contented. This may be their favourite blanket or toy, something which smells of home or you or their favourite food or treat. This will help to keep them relaxed.
If you are at home, pick an area of the home where they are most comfortable and relaxed. If the weather is nice, this can sometimes be outside in the garden or it may be in their basket or on your bed. Wherever you decide, also bear in mind that having some space around them will be a great advantage so you can sit with them and comfort them and so the vet can reach them easily.
This is something that vets must do by law. They will hate having to ask you, but the regulations require that you sign a consent form. This states that you are giving them permission to euthanase your dog. The form will also ask you whether you wish to your dog at home or if you would like them cremated.
Burial and Cremation Choices
When obtaining your consent in writing, your vet may discuss burial and cremation choices. It may be that you have previously discussed this with your vet, so they are confirming your wishes. Where you have not previously discussed this with your vet, they will take this time to talk about the options available to you, and may give you some time to consider your wishes. If you choose to have your dog cremated, your vet will arrange this for you. If you have requested their ashes, they will contact you when the ashes are returned to the practice. This usually takes about a week or two. If you are at the surgery and wish to take your dog home to bury, the staff will wrap him/her up for you in a blanket and can help you get them into your car.
Depending on your dogs’ temperament and condition, the vet may advise that giving some sedation first, might reduce the stress for your dog. Some dogs are stressed just by the sight and smell of the vet. A dog may be suffering from sensory loss – where it cannot see or hear so well. This will make it very sensitive to touch and over responsive. In these cases, sedation can be helpful .
The sedation is usually an injection which is given into the muscle. This sedation works by sending them off into a deep sleep, where they eventually become unconscious (unaware of what is going on around them). This process can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes from the time of injection to becoming fully unconscious. It is usually a very gradual process, where the dog will just slip off into a deep sleep.
Intravenous (IV) access
Regardless of whether your dog has been sedated or not, your vet will then need to find a vein into which the euthanasing injection can be given. Quite often the vets will ask a nurse to assist with holding your dog and “raising the vein”. The nurse will put pressure on the vein, so the vet can see and inject into the vein more easily.
Frequently used are the veins which run down a dog’s front legs. Vets will often clip the fur on the leg so they can visualise the vein better. The area is cleaned with surgical spirit or sterile wipe. The vet may inject straight from the syringe, or place a catheter (in humans, this is called a canula). The catheter is taped into place so it does not move if your dog does. Other sites on the body may be used for the injection. In some old, frail dogs, or those that have been given a sedative beforehand, this can affect their circulation so your vet may decide to inject elsewhere in the body.
The euthanasing injection given into the vein is basically an anaesthetic but when given in a large enough amount, it will put the dog into a deep and permanent “sleep”. The dog will have no idea what is going on, other than feeling a little sleepy to begin with. The brain becomes so sedated, that the heart and lungs stop receiving signals to breathe. The rest of the body in turn, eventually shuts down. This injection is completely pain free.
After the injection
The vet will then listen to check there is no heartbeat and no blink reflex in their eyes.
You may sometimes notice the muscles twitching a little even after your dog has passed away. This is completely normal. Sometimes, you may even hear your dog take a few deep breaths . This can look a bit shocking, but it is not your dog gasping for air. . By this time, your dog will have already passed away and the gasping you occasionally hear, is when the diaphragm (the breathing muscle) is contracting and relaxing, drawing air in and out.
Occasionally, your dog may wee or poo as they lose control of their bowel and bladder. Do not worry about this, it is completely normal and unfortunately unavoidable - your vet will be very used to dealing with it.
If you would like time alone with your dog after they have been put to sleep, please don’t be afraid to ask your vet. The vet will give you some time to say your final farewells with your beloved dog in private. Please do not worry about being upset or showing your grief - it really is OK not to be OK. Your vet team are prepared for this and have been through it themselves with their own animals.
Do remember you are not alone. There is a great deal of knowledge and support to help you deal with this very difficult time. We are always here to help and listen if you need us, so too your own vet.
Pet Bereavement Support Service:
0800 096 6606
Open every day 8.30am-8.30pm
email firstname.lastname@example.org and they will reply within 48 hours
EASE Pet Loss Support Services:
www.ease-animals.org.uk - offer a wide range of support resources, covering different aspects of grief in pet bereavement - free to download or view or listen to online:
Animal Samaritans Pet Bereavement Service:
0203 745 9859
Alternatively, the team here at MyDogDoc, as dog owners ourselves, understand that the loss of a pet can be truly devastating. If at any point in the process you would like to chat to one of our team then we would more than happy to talk you through the process, and be an understanding and sympathetic ear to listen. We all understand how special our canine companions are, sometimes you need to talk.