Animal Euthanasia Process

What is animal euthanasia?


The term "euthanasia" comes from Greek meaning "good death."  It is also commonly refered to by the euphamisms "put down," "put to sleep," or "put out of their misery."   Euthanasia is the act of humanely putting an animal to death or allowing it to die by means of an injection. This method is designed to cause minimal pain and distress to the animal. 

The Decision to Euthanize:


For owners and veterinarians, euthanizing a pet is one of the most difficult things we will ever do. Euthanasia continues to be an option for many pet owners who do not want their terminally-ill pet to suffer, or who may find the veterinary costs for continued treatment of their pet to be prohibitive. As an owner, the emotions you feel at this time often may make it hard to think, communicate, and make decisions. Therefore, it is often helpful to discuss the process of euthanasia with the veterinarian well in advance of its occurrence. Which family members will be present during the procedure, when and where it will take place, options for handling the pet's remains, how the family members may want to say good-bye or provide a memorial for their pet, and how and with whom they will spend time immediately after the euthanasia are all important issues which should be discussed ahead of time.


How will I know when it's time?


Knowing when euthanasia should be considered depends on your pet's health as well as your own. It is often helpful to look at the quality of life your pet is experiencing. Does your pet still enjoy eating and other simple pleasures? Is your pet able to respond to you in a normal way? Is your pet experiencing more pain than pleasure?


You will be able to make a much better decision, and be more comfortable in your decision if you get as much information as possible regarding your pet's condition. If your pet is sick, ask about the treatment options, possible outcomes, and chances of recovery. In most instances, you will not need to make the decision immediately, so take time to think about what you should do. Discuss the decision with all of the other family members, including any children. Although it is a human tendency to question our decisions afterward, if you know you made informed decisions it will reduce the 'what ifs' you may tend to ask yourself. Decide what you want your pet's death to be like.


As hard as it is, you need to consider the financial cost as well as the emotional cost of continuing to care for your pet. Do not feel guilty if you cannot afford expensive treatment; there are many people who cannot. It does not make you a 'bad' owner or one who loves their pet any less. You need to consider what is best for your pet, but also what is best for you and your family. Are you physically able to manage your pet's care? Do you feel ready to say good-bye, or do you need some more time? What will make it possible for you to feel comfortable regarding the decision?

What happens during euthanasia?


Euthanasia is a peaceful and virtually pain-free process, but it is best to understand what will occur and how your pet's body may react. Knowing this may help you make your decision regarding euthanasia, and make the process less traumatic.


To perform the euthanasia, first a catheter or needle will be inserted into a vein in your pet's front or back leg. If your pet has been very sick, or has had many intravenous injections, it may take a little time for the veterinarian to find the best location. They will then inject a drug into the vein which will place your pet in a state of relaxation. The actual drug used to perform the euthanasia is a concentrated solution of pentobarbital, which will also be injected into the vein. In most cases, the injection works very rapidly (5 seconds). The injection causes the pet's heart to stop beating. In some instances, the time between the injection and the death of the pet may be slightly longer. This is especially true if the pet has poor circulation.



In some cases, the pet's muscles may relax or contract after the pet has died. This can be very disconcerting if you are not aware of this possibility ahead of time. The muscles of the urinary bladder and the anus may relax, and your pet may void urine and stool. Involuntary contractions of muscles may result in the pet appearing to gasp, or move a leg. Again, remember your pet is not aware of these things happening since they happen after death. In almost all cases, the pet's eyes will not close after death.


Knowing what happens during euthanasia may help you and other family members decide if they want to be present.

Saying Good-Bye


People say good-bye to their pet in many ways, and at different times during the euthanasia. You may choose to:

















  • Say good-bye before your pet enters the exam room.


  • Accompany your pet into the room, say good-bye prior to the euthanasia, and then leave before the euthanasia is performed.


  • Say good-bye in the exam room prior to the euthanasia, leave, and then return to the exam room after the euthanasia to say your final good-bye.


  • Be present at the euthanasia and say good-bye during the procedure.

Again, in many cases, the individual family members may wish to have some time alone with the pet both before and/or after the euthanasia to say their personal good-byes.


Remembrances & Options for the Care of Your Pet's Body


Many people wish to take something back home with them to remind them of their pet. It may be a lock of hair, a whisker, a clay imprint of the pet's paw, or the pet's collar or nametag.


You will need to make a decision as to how you want to care for your pet's body, Wise Owl Animal Hospital has several options available for you on our Pet Loss page.

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