Everything Dog Owners Need to Know About Euthanasia

Everything Dog Owners Need to Know About Euthanasia

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Adrienne is certified dog trainer and former veterinary assistant. She has taken several courses on hospice, end-of-life care for dogs.

How Do You Know When a Dog's Life Is Over?

It may just feel like days ago when your best friend was just a puppy romping around and now you wake up to find a white muzzled friend, with a touch of arthritis but still happy to see you around. It is a very sad fact to acknowledge this, but our furry friends are very short lived compared to our life span. Indeed, humans are capable of outliving a lot of pets but when each pet gets old it almost feels like an unacceptable fact that somehow always feels to come all too soon.

Many pet owners indeed have a hard time accepting the fact that their beloved pets will cross the rainbow bridge soon. What really makes it worse is that dogs—unlike humans—are unable to use words to express what is going on mentally, physically, and spiritually, leaving their owners with the heavy load of deciding for them.

It would all be much easier if dogs could simply drift into better life in sleep, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is up to the owner therefore to decide if and when that much dreaded appointment should be scheduled.

Who Decides When a Dog's Life Is Over?

Many times dog owners cannot make up their mind and therefore decide to ask the vet or the vet staff. Unless the dog is visibly in distress or pain, this is a difficult question that ultimately can be answered only by the owner that only knows the pet best. Generally, the best guideline is to carefully observe at the dog's quality of life from a neutral, yet compassionate standpoint.

  • Is the dog still enjoying life?
  • Are there more bad days than good?
  • Is the dog able to walk?
  • Is the dog still happy to eat?
  • Is the dog crying from pain?
  • Are the drugs prescribed working?
  • Is there anything else that can be done to make life more enjoyable?

Generally these questions help to make a decision that is in the dog's best interest.

Some dogs express their will to go on their own. Attentive dog owners will notice the dog giving up on life. This can be a lack of that special spark in the eyes or an absence of a tail wag. It could be a lack of interest in the dog's favorite food or a sudden withdrawal from wanting to be pet.

When the time comes, it really hits owners hard. It is not unusual to cry on the phone when making the appointment but the vet staff are used to it. If this is the first time a dog is put to sleep, this article will help understand what to expect and will provide an accurate insight on what will happen.

Why Dogs Are Euthanized

Dogs can be euthanized for various reasons some may be obvious others may be less obvious and hard to accept, even for veterinary personnel which often are faced to comply with the owner's wishes.

The most common causes of dog euthanasia:

  • Old Age. This is the most common cause of euthanasia. Dogs nowadays lead longer and longer lives. It is not unusual to see nowadays dogs living up to 15-16 years old or more. These are often dogs that are no longer able to get up, that have lost their will to eat and that clearly are starting to ''give up''. Owners therefore decide to give back their dog's unconditional love and provide the ultimate act of kindness even though it is the toughest decision a dog owner is faced with.
  • Illness. Dogs that have been provided with veterinary care and that are no longer responding to medications (such as aggressive cancers) or dogs that are in distress from diseases that have no cure are often euthanized. These pets are in constant pain and euthanasia is the only way they may finally rest in peace, free from the pain and the anxiety that comes along.
  • Aggression. In some cases, aggressive dogs that could not be rehabilitated or that have a serious unprovoked bite history are put to sleep because they are no longer controllable and are deemed to pose a danger to the public.
  • Unwanted Dogs. There are also unfortunately less noble causes for dogs to be euthanized. Some of them are pets that are no longer wanted, pets the owner can no longer afford, pets that have behavior issues that can be fixed, pets whose owners, move, divorce, have a baby etc.


Euthanasia (from the Greek, meaning good death) is the process of putting an animal humanely to sleep. This procedure is carried by a licensed veterinarian commonly with the use of a chemical substance, a barbiturate solution, known as Sodium Pentobarbital. This solution is better known in the veterinary field with trade names such as ''Sleep Away, Fatal Plus or Euthasol'' and it is typically colored a bright color such as turquoise, pink or a bluish-red color so not to be confused with other solutions.

The solution is injected intravenously often using the vein in the leg. Usually all the dog will feel is the needle prick. Inserting a catheter is an option that has many advantages versus injecting directly into the vein.

If the dog however is in severe shock its veins may not be accessible and therefore the solution must be injected directly into the jugular vein, heart or liver. Because the solution is irritant to tissues when it is not inserted into a vein, it may be painful. This is why this is usually done under sedation.

Because Sodium Pentobarbital produces an anesthetic effect, the pet drifts into a deep peaceful sleep, thus, the term ''to put to sleep''.Indeed, the euthanasia solution is basically an overdose of an anesthetic like drug. The solution basically works quickly first depressing the cerebral cortex and therefore, causing unconsciousness, followed then by respiratory and cardiac arrest within 30 seconds.

Dogs that are anxious in nature may benefit from a sedative given prior to the injection. This may delay the procedure because it may take a few minutes to take effect but it may help the pet relax often along with the owner.

Owners that wish to stay for the procedure must be aware of possible nerve reactions such as vocalizations, muscle twitches, urination, defecation and failure for the eyelids to close. In some cases, the dog may be seen taking a few last deep breath (agonal gasps). The pet is unaware of all of these and does not feel pain as these are simply nerve reactions that take place while the pet is unconscious. Such reactions are natural and occur regardless of the way the pet passes on.

The vet will confirm death by checking for a heart beat. Once confirmed, the owner may be left alone with their pet to say a final goodbye. After ward, the pet is placed in a plastic bag and frozen if it needs to be cremated or sent to a cemetery or given to the owner if it will be buried at home (owners should check on local ordinances first)

The goal of euthanasia is therefore to produce a ''good death'' emphasizing on the fact that it must be pain-free and peaceful, basically a death carried out with the highest respect for the animal.

Will my dog feel pain?

In most cases, the dog will only feel the needle prick. Dogs that appear to be in pain because of their medical condition or dogs that are anxious in nature, may benefit from a sedative before the euthanasia solution is administered.

How long does it take for the dog to die?

With the use of pentobarbital, dogs usually will succumb within 30 seconds after the injection. In some case it may take a bit longer for dogs that suffer from sever heart disease because the heart may be unable to pump the solution effectively as a healthy heart may.

Can euthanasia be done at home?

There are more and more dog owners requesting for the euthanasia to take place in the home, and there more and more vets (especially mobile vets) willing to accommodate them. Dogs may be more comfortable at home, or may be unable to climb out of a car, and dog owners like their dog's last memories to be spent at home.

Should I be there... or not?

Some dog owners may opt to stay for the euthanasia appointment whereas others may decide to drop the dog off. This is ultimately your choice. There are pet owners that want to be there to say goodbye and hold the pet in their arms for the last time, and there are those dog owners that want to only keep vivid images of their pet alive.

Will my dog's eyes be open?

Because the solution working is quick acting, and is ultimately the same solution (in an overdose amount) used to put the dog under for surgery, the dog will most likely have its eyes open. If this makes you uncomfortable, you can ask your vet to euthanize, close the eyelids and call you once the procedure is over.

What are my burial options?

You may ask for the body back so you can bury your dog at home (check your local ordinances first), you can have your dog cremated and get the ashes back, you can have your dog cremated and not get the ashes back (the ashes will usually be spread in a dog cemetery) or you can have your dog buried in a pet cemetery.

A euthanasia appointment is the most dreaded appointment dog owners will make in their life and it never gets any easier. It is not unusual to cry over the phone when making such appointment and the veterinary staff truly understand. The home may feel quite empty after ward and it may take a while to get used to the idea of living without a much cherished canine companion. There are ample of resources for dog owners having a difficult time, from books to online forums. If you are considering euthanasia for your beloved do or if you just had a pet put to sleep rest assured you are not alone. Reach out to your family and friends for support, and try your best to cherish all the best memories.

  • How to Determine a Dog's Quality of Life
  • What happens during a pet's euthanasia appointment
    If your dog or cat has arrived to a point where his or her body is frail and there is nothing that more that can be medically done, your vet may suggest to schedule a euthanasia appointment. As sad as...

Questions & Answers

Question: Is Euthosol administered orally?

Answer: Euthosol is a euthanasia product for dogs containing pentobarbital sodium and phenytoin sodium as the active ingredients. It is only administered intravenously.

Richard Lindsay from California on March 29, 2016:

This is a very good post, I have had a lot of animals in my lifetime. This post is well written and explains things really well.

Pamela Dapples from Arizona now on May 11, 2011:

Thank you for a very detailed and thoughtful article. I want to comment on this part where you've said: "Because the solution is irritant to tissues when it is not inserted into a vein, it may be painful. This is why this is usually done under sedation." This is disturbing due to a very negative posting on the local craigslist regarding the local humane society's practices. It is said they do not use a sedative. But I do see that you have clarified that as long as the solution goes into a vein, it is not painful for the animal.

Peter Owen from West Hempstead, NY on May 09, 2011:

very good description. This was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I elected to stay in the room but I wish I hadn't.

GetSmart on May 09, 2011:

What a very helpful article for a very difficult decision we will all have to face as pet parents. Thank you for all of this information.

Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on May 06, 2011:

Alexadry, thank you for a very matter of fact and reasoned approach to information about pet euthanasia. Never an easy decision to make; your hub helps us understand why, when, how, if and all the other questions which come to mind and heart at a time such as this. I am very happy that you have shared this excellent hub with your excellent skills. I have had to say goodbye to many many of my companion animals (we do cat/dog rescue and have had tens of dozens throughout the years) and it is never easy, even when Veterinarian and we know there is no other choice. Of course, we hold our loved ones close, saying familiar and tender phrases they've learned to know and which make the animal feel secure, safe and comfortable as possible. This is, indeed, so difficult but, we, as guardians, must understand our role as "parent" to these dependents. Thank you so much..UP, Useful, Beautiful and Awesome.

laddriggers on May 05, 2011:

This is a wonderfully thought out post. It is so hard to have to say goodbye to a beloved pet.

5 Things This Tech Wishes You Knew Before Euthanizing

Euthanasia. The word itself makes all our stomachs drop. It is a gift to pets and a curse to owners – having the power to decide is something we are not comfortable with. However, when going through the euthanasia process with your own pets, you are in a position to make numerous decisions that can change the course of the overall process.

As a Registered Veterinary Technician, I witness euthanasias on a daily basis. Let me share from personal experience the 5 things I wish every pet owner knew.

1. It’s ok to cry.

People apologize to me all the time for crying over their pets. Whether it’s time to say goodbye, or you are simply having a hard time watching us draw blood on your dog, I wish you knew that I GET IT. Many of us who work in animal medicine (myself very much included) are totally neurotic, hypersensitive, and obsessive when it comes to our own pets.

I may seem calm and collected while working with your cat, but that’s because it’s my job and I can’t afford to be any other way if I’m going to be good at it. You best believe that the second my dog so much as sneezes, I go into a total state of panic, lose all common sense, and forget everything I learned in tech school.

So, when you are crying over the pet that you have loved for years, I assure you, I have nothing but respect for you. I respect how much you care. I respect your ability to make such difficult decisions. I respect your bravery. And please know that no matter how demonstrative you may be with your emotions, you are still keeping it together more than I would be in your shoes.

2. Be there, if you can.

I am lucky to work in a hospital where the vast majority of pet owners stay with their pets for the euthanasia process. However, this is not always the case. I urge you to stay with your pets, if you can, for multiple reasons. First, for my sake. One of the absolute most difficult things I do as a Veterinary Technician is take on the role of comforting and loving a pet as they pass on when their human is not there to do so.

It is an incredible weight to try to act on your behalf, and it is emotionally exhausting in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. When you stay with your fur baby, I can focus on my own job, instead of doing both of ours.

Second, for your pet’s sake. The vet can be a very scary place for animals – they don’t understand what all these noises and smells are, or why these strangers are poking and prodding them. Do you want them to experience that fear alone? And have it be their very last memory? Your pet doesn’t know what we are doing or why – they only know that you are there, that you said it’s ok, that you love them.

I remember being a child, and how scary going to the doctor was, but how much more confident I felt with my mom there reassuring me. I imagine that is exactly how pets feel. If you can find the strength to be there, please do so. Please let your love, your touch, your presence be the last thing your pet experiences.

3. Keep the collar on.

One of the saddest things I witness during the euthanasia process is when humans take their pet’s collar off when they are still very much awake. To many pets, taking their collar off can have negative associations. For example, I know my own dog panics when I remove her collar as she knows it’s bath time! I want your pet to be as comfortable as possible, and that means not making any major changes immediately prior to euthanizing.

Pets are much smarter than we give them credit for, and they pick up on the smallest of cues. The unknown is scary to your pet, so even if they don’t know what the cues mean, the idea that something is new and strange and out of the ordinary is enough to cause them some sense of anxiety. So, keep the collar on until your pet has passed. Let them go in the state that they always were.

4. Make it a celebration.

Bring treats. Tell stories. Laugh and cry at the same time. Surround yourselves with all his/her favorite toys and beds and blankets. It’s ok to cry, and it’s also ok to celebrate! I love when people tell me they took their dog to the beach or napped in the sun with their cat right before coming in to the hospital. This is going to be one of the hardest days of your life, but it doesn’t have to be for your pet. I promise that the more you celebrate your pet’s life, no matter how long or short, the easier it will be to continue to live your own once this is all said and done.

It is ok to cry in front of your pet, to tell them how much you will miss them, to let them see you be absolutely beside yourself. I’m sure your pet has seen you at your worst before – I know mine has. But remember to celebrate, no matter how miserable you are. I promise it will make it easier for both you and your pet. What’s more, It will allow you to reflect on the euthanasia experience with positivity – you will remember that you celebrated and you will feel good about having done so.

5. Prepare.

I want this moment to be entirely about you and your pet. In order for that to be the case, several things must happen. First, you must understand the euthanasia process. If possible, talk to your vet or tech prior to coming into the hospital, or prior to starting the process – ask them to walk you through the steps of euthanasia so that you know exactly what to expect. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable with the process (or at least, as comfortable as you can be). Know what you’re walking into, so that your focus can be entirely on your pet.

Second, take care of business ahead of time when possible. Sign any required paperwork. Pay the bill. Decide on aftercare. Even go so far as to prepare your next meal ahead of time, arrange a ride, rent a movie, invite friends over – whatever you think might help you cope when you return home from the hospital without your pet. The less you have to deal with during and after euthanasia, the better. I want you to be able to focus entirely on your pet during the euthanasia, and then entirely on yourself afterwards. Let’s do whatever we can to make that possible.

Every euthanasia is different. Some are planned, some are sudden. Some may happen in your home, some in the hospital. Regardless, they are always difficult – to prepare for, to cope with, to experience. I hope these five things will help you to plan ahead and to make the process as beautiful as it can be for both you and your pet.


“At some point, we move from ensuring a quality of life to ensuring a quality of death.”

If you ask any of the Lap of Love doctors, we will all tell you that discussing when to say goodbye is the most important conversation a veterinarian ever has with the families that call upon us for help. Empathy, openness, non-judgementalism, and compassion are the heart of what we do. Talking about death is a skill and it is a privilege to walk families through that conversation.


Why do we choOse in-home euthanasia? Because it’s what we would choOse for our own pets.

“The greatest gift we can give our pets is the relief of pain and suffering
and the greatest gift we can give the families that call us is the release of guilt.”

How to euthanize a dog – what to consider

There are more things to take into consideration when learning how to euthanize a dog. Some of them involve legal requirements, while others target your emotional and mental help – before, during and after the unhappy moment. So, what should you think about upfront?

Aftermath considerations

No matter which option you choose when the time comes, the aftermath is what takes many people down. As if thinking about this issue would not drain your emotions enough, the aftermath will make it even harder for you. Lots of people want to stick to that room, be in that room and relax in that room once their dogs pass away. It is perfectly natural, but it will also make things harder for you.

If you do it at home, stepping inside that room might be a bit too much to handle. The pain will last for weeks and can go up to months. It is challenging to see that room – the same spot where your dog passed away or its favorite toys.

Veterinary staff relies on various techniques to manage emotions. You will understand that this is the best option for the dog and you will learn to accept it and live with it.

Medical help

While you may not necessarily want to go to a clinic, the process still requires a bit of medical assistance, so you should still get in touch with your vet. The vet ensures that your dog will not suffer throughout the process. Practically, the first step involves sedating your furry friend. The second step covers the final drug.

Most of these drugs come with side effects like pain, vomiting and even seizures. When learning how to euthanize dog, you want to do it efficiently or your dog will suffer even more. Practically, you need to learn about the process or even do it inside the clinic. Check with your vet.

Local laws

Double check the local laws – or simply ask your vet for advice – before even starting to learn how to euthanize a dog. In some states or countries, the procedure is not legal if you are not fully trained or licensed. In other places, you might be allowed to do it yourself, but with a vet nearby.

At the same time, many of the drugs needed to euthanize a pet might be sold with a prescription only, which makes this venture even more complicated if you want to do it yourself. Such substances can be controlled, hence the necessity of a license.

Other considerations

Simply put, double check all these factors upfront and get ready. The most important thing to ask yourself is whether the procedure or your plan is humane. Your dog is your best friend, so you do not want it to suffer – no matter what.

From many points of view, doing it yourself with a vet’s supervision could be the best middle option between various methods.

Steps to go through to euthanize your dog

There are a few steps you have to go through in order to learn how to euthanize a dog and each of them involves a few different scenarios. However, it is important to plan everything in small details to avoid potential problems.

The initial consultation with your vet

You should talk to your vet before even deciding to euthanize the dog. Arrange a consultation, so the vet can examine your furry friend and determine whether this is the right thing to do. While your dog might be ill, the affection could be treatable, so you might have to avoid this procedure. Once the decision is made, the vet can also assist you further and give you more details about the procedure.

Since you are there, you can also ask the vet for your options – in a clinic, at home or at home with specialized monitoring.

Getting your family ready

Both you and your family should prepare for this procedure in case this is the case. At the end of the day, you will never be ready to see your dog go. But it will happen, whether you want it or not. Talking to each other and showing each other compassion can help you deal with this unfortunate issue.

Pay special attention to the sensitive members of your family. For example, children are more likely to be traumatized by this problem, so take their feelings into consideration. Explain to them what you are about to do and help them understand why – encourage them to share their emotions as well.

You should also make a decision regarding the people who will assist during the procedure. If someone is too sensitive or children are too young, they may not want to witness this sad moment.

Getting ready for the procedure

Arranging the procedure can be a painful process, but it has to be done. If the vet agrees to assist you, ask all the question you may have. Find out what is going to happen, how you have to do it, how long it takes and so on. Inquire about any potential preparation.

Everything must be ready before you go through the procedure. Having everything ready will make it simpler for everyone involved, including your dog.

Making your pet comfortable

This is when the real emotional pain begins. You know those are the last moments with your pet, so you inevitably feel your eyes clogging with tears. It is part of the game and everyone goes through the exact same issues. Your dog has given you years of loyalty and love. This is the best moment to show it the exact same level of affection. The last day should be as pleasant as possible for your pet’s comfort.

When learning how to euthanize a dog, you will understand that your pet needs its favorite things around. Get a nice blanket for your pet to lie down – preferably its favorite blanket from its bed. Come up with a bed of pillows or simply add more blankets. You should also have some of your dog’s favorite treats around – make sure it gets plenty of them. This is not the time to worry about health or sugar content. Hugs and kisses are also part of the game.

Some dog owners may not necessarily want to be around during the procedure. However, it is essential for at least one familiar face to be there. The last thing you want is having your dog pass away lonely and surrounded by strangers. This is the moment when you have to beat your emotions and simply be there no matter what – your dog needs you.

Going on with the procedure

The last step covers the final procedure. If your vet does it in a clinic or at your house, ask if there is anything you can do to assist. If you do it yourself under a vet’s supervision, ask if everything looks alright upfront.

It might be handy petting and talking to your dog during its last moments. It will calm your friend down.

Now that you are aware of the steps you have to go through, what happens when it comes to the actual euthanasia?

What happens during an actual euthanasia

It helps taking some time off to overcome this problem. Take the day off work. You will find it extremely hard to go to work after euthanizing your dog. You will feel sad and start crying out of nowhere, so it helps taking the day off. In fact, you might want to have the next few days off too. You know yourself better than anyone – some people need to get distracted right away to overcome pain, while others need to grieve.

If the euthanasia is done in the clinic, it might be alright to arrange with the receptionist to get there at a quiet time. It helps bringing a friend or a family member with you for support. If the vet wants to make a home visit, the whole situation might be a bit easier.

If the dog is hospitalized and does not seem to recover, just pay a visit and say your goodbye. Everyone wants to get a last kiss from their dog, but if your dog is already sleeping under an aesthetic, you can go on with the euthanasia without having to wake it up. It is simply the kinder option, even if it feels more painful.

The process can be more distressing for you than for your dog. But there is one thing to remember – if your dog is awake, it will lose consciousness within a few seconds. It will not feel any pain, so everything that happens later is irrelevant.

Most vets will ask you to sign a form before the procedure goes on.

An euthanasia normally involves an injection. The vet will give your pet an aesthetic overdose. One of your dog’s front legs will be slightly shaved for the vein to be visible, yet other parts of the body are also accepted. The leg allows the dog to see what happens, so it will feel calmer. The only pain involved is the needle prick, which is not that harmful. The actual injection involves no pain at all.

Some dogs will whine during the injection because of the needle prick. If your dog has always hated needles, expect the small cry. Your pet will then feel dizzy. Seconds later, it will be unconscious. Sometimes, unconsciousness kicks in before the vet gets to finish the injection. It takes a minute or two for death to occur. Once the heart has stopped beating, your dog is dead.

Some dogs with severe conditions or a poor circulation may take more than two minutes. There is nothing to worry about in terms of pain – it will not feel anything.

If your dog is restless before the procedure, some vets proceed with a sedative. However, once sedated, the vein might be more difficult to find. The injection will also take a bit longer to work.

Minutes after death, there might be moments that will shock you a little. Practically, you will see muscle movements and reflexes. Such signs do not mean that your dog is still alive. In fact, they tell you that your dog is dead. These are reflex muscle movements and have nothing to do with life. Sometimes, your pet’s eyes remain open. While not a general rule, the bladder might empty as well. Again, this is not a sign of life.

Over 99% of all cases are smooth and quick. The pet will not experience any stress or pain at all. Even if the procedure has a few difficulties, the actual result is still fast and easy. Most importantly, it will save your beloved pet days or even weeks of pain and suffering – which will inevitably lead to a painful death.

This is basically what you have to remember – you are doing this for your dog. You never want to see it go away, but you have to show your furry friend the love and respect it deserves.

Watch the video: When is it time to Euthanize your Dog?