Dog Euthanasia

Family around dying dog

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Euthanasia is an overdose of barbiturates that stop a dog’s heart. The fluids are administered through an intravenous catheter or an injection, and it is painless when done properly. When it’s your dog being euthanized you can choose whether or not you want to be present. Some veterinarians will come to administer euthanasia for your dog, which can be 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 likea snippet of your dog’s fur to keep, or the collar

What’s The Procedure For Dog Euthanasia?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Veterinarian Wendy McCulloch euthanizes Alberta Fergus' pet dog Sugar, 13, who had terminal cancer, at Fergus' apartment on November 4, 2012 in New York City. McCulloch runs Pet Requiem, a home veterinary service designed to provide geriatric care and in-home euthanasia for dying pets in the New York and New Jersey area. She paid a house call and brought a free load of groceries to Fergus, who is disabled and homebound, as a gesture to a pet owner affected by Superstorm Sandy. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

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 if your dog is being euthanized. Most veterinarians use a seizure medication called pentobarbital, which causes the heart and brain to shut down when given in high doses. This is administered intravenously.

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 probably not close automatically.

What Dogs Get Euthanized?

Portrait of a beautiful, cute old Irish Setter dog

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Some shelters put down dogs that they consider unadoptable. These can include dogs that have aggressive tendencies, dogs that are too old, dogs that have illnesses or deformities, or dogs that remain at the shelter for too long. No-kill shelters seek to place every dog that comes into their care with loving homes, though there are still circumstances where they may choose to euthanize. Dogs that are deemed dangerous by a court after a bite incident or serious signs of aggression can be sentenced to euthanasia, as well.

Euthanasia can also be a humane way of ending the life of a dog that is suffering. As for whether or not you should euthanize your own dog, there are many questions you need to ask yourself. Is your dog sick with no hope of getting better? Is your dog unable to maintain basic functions such as eating, moving, going potty, or sleeping through the night? Is your dog in pain? Discuss these questions with your veterinarian before you make a decision. When you do decide, you’ll be doing it for the right reasons.

Should I Be There When My Dog Is Euthanized?

old belgian shepherd in front of white background

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The only right answer is the one that makes sense for you. Your dog would probably appreciate you being there, as painful as it may be, but it is your choice. 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 may be best not to have them there. For a mature child who asks to be present, it might be fine. You can always ask for your veterinarian’s opinion, as well.

Burial Options

HALETHORPE, MD - SEPT 24: Jim Schenning (holding his new dog Kate) visits the memorial for his previous dog Emma. The memorial is just outside of his office, a place he chose to be closer to Emma. Schenning had Emma put down at his home in May by a vet who specializes in home euthanasia. He got his new Jack Russell, Kate, a few weeks ago.(Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(Picture Credit: Michael Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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.

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