Euthanasia is an overdose of barbiturates that stop a dog’s heart. The fluids are administered through an intravenous catheter or an injection, and when it’s your dog being euthanized you can choose whether or not you want to be present. Some veterinarians will come to your home for this — a good idea if your dog finds going to the clinic or pet hospital stressful.
Before the procedure, most vets will invite you to go into an examination room and then leave you alone for a few minutes to say what you want to say, or just hold your dog close. When the veterinarian and vet tech come in, let them know whether you’d like a snippet of your dog’s fur to keep, or the collar.
What’s the procedure?
Some clinics give the dog a sedative first because many pick up on what’s going on, and get anxious. But it isn’t standard practice everywhere so you may have to ask for it.
Certain dogs, like some humans, are more reactive than others and will scream or whine in response to the injection, which can be disconcerting, to say the least, at a time when emotions are already fraught.
What most people are not prepared for is how quickly the euthanasia solution works; death occurs in just a few seconds. You’ll probably feel your dog relax, and then it’s over. Sometimes you may hear what sounds like a gasp coming from your dog after he has died; that’s simply air being exhaled by the lungs. The nerves can twitch for a moment, too. Sometimes the dog urinates.
These are involuntary reflex actions after death and aren’t painful, but they can be disturbing to watch. Unlike in the movies, your dog’s eyes will not close automatically.
Should I be there?
The only right answer is the one that makes sense for you. Do you want to be? If so, be there, since your dog would probably prefer it. However, if you think you’ll get upset in front of your dog, it’s best for your dog if you’re not there. If you can keep calm (hard as that is), your dog will be calmer, too.
If you feel your children won’t understand or think you’re harming the dog, or if their own emotions will upset the dog, it’s best not to have them there. For a mature child who asks to be present, it might be fine.
Even though you may feel you can’t make any more decisions, try deciding beforehand what to do with the body. If you haven’t made burial arrangements in advance, your clinic can provide group cremation (in which you do not receive any ashes), individual cremation (in which your dog’s ashes are returned to you), or you can bury the body. An autopsy can be performed with any of these choices.
Be aware that municipalities have regulations about whether or not pets can legally be buried. While it’s not usually a concern in rural areas, it’s typically illegal in cities.
Bottom line: Euthanasia can be a humane option to end suffering.