On Euthanasia: What to Expect

Previously in this series on euthanasia, we’ve discussed making the decision and scheduling an appointment to euthanize your dog. Today I’d like to discuss the procedure itself. Knowing what to expect may make it easier for you to prepare yourself. I understand that this topic is very sensitive and may be upsetting to some people, but strongly feel that knowledge is power. It can be very comforting to have a solid understanding of what will happen and what your dog will feel during his or her final moments.

Photo by Kelvin Andow

Photo by Kelvin Andow

When your vet euthanizes your dog, they will inject an overdose of a powerful sedative directly into your dog’s vein. This drug will cause the nerves in your dog’s body to stop sending signals (including pain signals) and will slow your dog’s breathing and heart until they eventually stop. Many dogs take a final, deep breath as they pass away. Sometimes dogs will urinate or defecate when they are euthanized due to the total relaxation that happens. If this happens to your dog, it will do so when your dog is no longer aware of what is happening. Euthanasia does not hurt. Afterwards, your dog’s eyes may be open (although the vet can close them if you wish) and his tongue might hang out of his mouth. If your dog’s body is moved, he may appear to burp or sigh as air escapes the lungs.

In many cases, your veterinarian may choose to sedate your dog prior to euthanasia. You can ask your vet to do this if you think it will make the process easier for you or your dog. Sedatives can be given orally by mixing them with your dog’s favorite foods or can be administered via injection into your dog’s leg or back muscles. The sedatives given via injection are more powerful than oral sedatives and will provide more complete relaxation.

In Dobby’s case, we sought advice from his veterinary behaviorist on the best drugs to make the process as easy as possible. I wish that I could tell you that he went peacefully, but to be honest his euthanasia was very difficult. Most dogs who are old or sick pass on quite quietly, but in cases like Dobby where there is a behavioral component to the euthanasia, it is not uncommon for them to overcome all of the sedatives in their system.

Dobby was given a double dose of his anxiety medication, trazodone, the night before his appointment. Three hours before his appointment, he was given another very large dose of this drug – four times the amount he would usually take. In most cases, this would have made him too sleepy to walk, but Dobby was still walking around and carrying his ball when the vet arrived, even though he was quite sleepy. He growled and barked at the vet and was on high alert.

When he was given another sedative via injection into his leg (because he was responding too aggressively for the vet to have a clear shot at his vein), Dobby started to show a lot of seizure activity in the form of head swinging. He also became very sensitive to noises and startled every time I sniffled (not an uncommon side effect of his seizures). At that point he was no longer aware of what was going on around him, so the vet gently injected the euthanasia solution into his vein. I held him close and whispered how much I loved him, telling him he was a good dog and that he didn’t ever have to be scared again, until I felt his body relax. The vet listened to his heart with a stethoscope and confirmed that he was gone.

If you’re preparing to euthanize your dog, remember that you have options. Dobby’s response to the process was extreme, and most dogs do not respond that way. You can choose whether you’d like to be present during the actual euthanasia or not. I personally wanted to be there for Dobby because I knew that my presence would help him feel less afraid. However, if you do not feel like you can be there for your dog that is also okay. Consider talking to your vet about sedation and staying with your pet until he or she is sedated, then leaving the area during the euthanasia itself. You could also ask a friend or family member that your dog knows and likes to take your dog to their final appointment or to stay with your dog while you leave the room.

Again, this is a very personal topic, and everyone deals with death differently. Together, you and your vet can help to make your dog’s final moments as peaceful as possible. Remember that euthanasia does not hurt. In assisting with many euthanasias over my career, I’ve noticed that after a dog is gone there is often a beautiful expression of peace that settles over their face. The pain or stress they’ve been experiencing no longer hangs over them, and it’s those of us who are left behind who have to deal with grief.

If you’ve made this difficult decision, how did your dog’s final moments go? Did you or your vet choose to sedate your dog ahead of time? Please feel free to share your experiences below. I really appreciate the kind and supportive community of dog lovers that follow this blog. There’s a lot of healing going on in the comments after each of these posts, and it’s a wonderful salute to the dogs who’ve brought us here that so many of you have felt willing to share.

98 responses to “On Euthanasia: What to Expect

  1. 10.5 hours ago I laid with my 12 y/o shepherd x Venus on the floor at the vet clinic with my 2nd family dog, Bucky right next to us. Venus had beautiful brown eyes, alert ears and reminded me of the Walmart Greeters. No person nor animal was spared from an 80 lb, bunny-rabbit hopping toothy-smiled and long-tongued shepherd running up to them to greet them. Even the odd time in 12 years when I selfishly raised my voice to her, she would come running to me, big eyes and soft face, as if to say “I’m sorry”. Her mind was sharp but her body was so tired. Tired from the arthritis in her hips and knees and the cysts / lumps on her body. She struggled to stand after laying down, Didn’t run after her favorite chewed up tennis balls any longer – only limp-walked and only 3-4 strides at that. She had taught me so much about life and to be fearless. I cried buckets laying next to her, telling her she is my rock, that I loved her from the moment I saw her when she was only 4 weeks old. The decision to euthanize her was the difficult but it was even harder, heart wrenching actually, when I laid next to her telling her I am here and that I loved her and I hope she knew that. I told her she wouldn’t be in pain any more. I couldn’t let her suffer any longer, it was my turn to suffer from missing her. It will become easier to think of her without crying but til then, I will cry regardless of where I am, when looking at Bucky who misses her too, looking for her constantly or when reading the stories penned by other pet owners who miss their beloved pets. Its very personal but I don’t feel so alone knowing others are out there going thru the same pain.

  2. I had my dog euthanized on September 21st 2015. I had previous experience being in the room while a dog was euthanized so I thought I knew what to expect. This time was quite different. The vet gave my dog the sedative shot in the scruff of his neck and offered him a large serving of canned chicken dog food, then left the room. My dog was continuing to eat the food as he was getting sleepy to the point of choking on the food. He panicked because he couldn’t breath and his legs went straight out as if he was running. I tried to clear all the food from his mouth before he was totally asleep. Watching that was very traumatizing to me. The vet returned in the middle of his panicked state and administered the final shot. My dog didn’t die in peace, he died in panic. I just don’t understand why that had to happen to him. Any feedback would be helpful.

    • That’s absolutely horrible. I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope the vet doesn’t do that as routine procedure. The injection is a very fast acting medication and often it will make the animal nauseous. Even if he had given him food prior to the injection he may have vomited.
      I put down one of mine about 3 days ago. We gave him a large “last meal” because we wanted to keep his belly happy and let him be content as he passed. About 30 seconds after the injection. He vomited it all up while laying down. He couldn’t even lift his head to clear it from his mouth because of the heavy sedation. About 20 seconds he was helpless.
      Your dog may have had seizure activity by the description of his legs. Many dogs have reactions to the sedation medication. Regardless, I am simply appalled (and heart broken) that the vet fed your dog after sedating him. I’m so sorry. I would call and ask if its normal practice and file a complaint with whomever necessary.

    • Karen Stansberry

      I am so sorry to hear of this horrible experience. My heart goes out to you. That was stupid on the part of the vet. Please use someone else from now on. Be sure to let them know you are leaving and why. I had a vet who just put my dog in a pen to die – slowly. When I insisted on seeing her, she was lying in her own filth, covered in flies and hadn’t had water in such a long time her mouth was glued shut. I immediately moved her. She did have to be euthanized and it was mercifully peaceful for her. I tell everyone I know about that experience, I suggest you do the same.

  3. I had my dog euthanized a week and a half ago. He was 16, had heart failure , but the worst part was he had dementia. He got lost walking around the house and cried all the time out of fear and anxiety. Occasionally he would act himself and that’s what made it so hard to finally make the decision. I asked the vet’s office to make a “consultation” appointment because I couldn’t bear giving up on him. At the visit the vet patiently explained what the options were and how long he would live with heroic measures. It wasn’t worth it for a few more months. So, I had the strenght to finally do it. The vet gave an injection of sedative and my dog stumbled a little and I laid him down into a comfortable position with his blanket from home. I spent the next few minutes petting him, kissing him, and telling him I loved him and how he did a great job of being my companion. He looked very peaceful. Then the vet came and put a catheter in his vein and did the injection. I asked how long would it take, he said less than a minute. At that point I left the room, I didn’t want to see him completely dead. Thank God a very good friend was waiting for me in the waiting room.

    • Tina, I am glad your dog didn’t have to suffer and he is at peace. My next dog I am going to hold on my lap and hold him and kiss his cheek and tell him what a great boy he is. Unfortunately with the dog I recently euthanized I was beside him talking to him, petting him and telling him what a good boy he was. The next one will be in my arms.

  4. I am preparing to send Rosie to heaven today. She has scarred lungs and collapsing trachea and has been home nursed until today. This site has given me strength – thank you all, bless you

  5. As I lay hear with tears steaming down my face. The pain is almost to much to bear. At 9am tomorrow morning, we will be putting our 16 yr old girl to sleep. She can barely walk. Lost so much weight, has dementia and actually need to wear diapers because she no longer has control all the time. The hardest thing for more is that she is still eating A lot. I know it sounds weird for me to say that. It just makes it feel worse. I’m gonna give my girl what dignity she has left. although so hard, I have to believe that this is what has to be done. I’m gonna miss he sooo much.

  6. I just got back from the vet where I had to experience putting our poor girl Zoe down. She was a 15 year old Jack Russell who over the past year (and recently month) went downhill quite fast. Dimentia coupled with arthritis resulted in her feeling anxious and in pain. We made the decision to happened her suffering and after the initial sedative was injected we where petting her and telling her how much she was loved. She passed out with me feeding her dog treats and being scratched on the cheeks. She was a great companion and awesome dog.

  7. I am struggling with the recent euthanizing of my 13-year-old female Shepherd/Australian Shepherd mix. I know that euthanasia takes away the suffering, but it also takes away the dog’s life. I feel like a gave up on my dog. She still had a strong heart and strong lungs. She fought dying taking deep breaths during the process. She had bad skin allergies her whole life and also her back legs were giving out due to old age. I just feel like I should have nursed her longer. She was still eating. I was pressured by a friend to “end the suffering.” Now I understand why we don’t euthanize people, it is such a slippery slope and who really has the right to take any living creature’s life away – their suffering yes, their life no. I don’t think I will ever be the same. I feel awful.

  8. I would just like to know if its normal for a dog to let out a long lower pitched howl that gradually faded into silence. This was 3mins after I had walked out of the room. My gut tells me that she wasn’t sedated like promised. I’m afraid to ask. Any thoughts. I’ve never heard my dog howl Ever. Its killing me.

  9. Brian. I had a similar situation today when my best friend Charlie was euthanized. I had the service performed in my home. The plan was for me to be present during the sedation and leave the room for the final dose to be administered. He started seizing after the initial sedative and I couldn’t take it so I left the room. Minutes later I too heard a low pitched kind of whine or growl. It didn’t last long and I didn’t hear it again so I thought I’d imagined it. Your comment makes me think I didn’t. I’m afraid to ask the Vet what could have caused it because I’m not sure I want to know the answer. What I will say though is that I know that he received the sedation.

    I came back into the room after he passed, closed his eyes, and then spent a few minutes petting and talking to him. I left the room and he was taken away. My head and heart know that I did the right thing. It doesn’t lessen the grief though. I choose to think of that final sound as him mourning the fact that he had to leave me.

  10. Oh my, I am in tears. We had our Maci put to sleep this past Wednesday. I stayed with her because it was a promise I made to her. I would not let her suffer and I would be with her in her final moments. It was very hard. She had cancer that had spread to her lungs. Our Vet originally did not want to sedate her first. I requested that he sedate her first. He really didn’t want to because he said it could cause so many problems. But after trying and failing to inject the lethal dose into her bein, he decided to sedate her. That’s when her tongue came our. It was just so sad. It did seen like it took forever. Maci was a 12 year old Basset hound. My precious little girl. I can’t stop crying.

    • It’s such a hard thing to do, but you did it because you loved your baby girl. You allowed her a peaceful passing. My vet will only sedate first. I can’t imagine what complications could possiblly happen with sedation. I lost my girl on Nov 20th and I too miss her so much. I’m sorry for you loss

      • Thank you so much for responding. The Vet said she could have seizures and it could get ugly. Either way it was terrible. it was not something we dog lovers like to do. I, too, am sorry for your loss. I just can’t conceive me being able to get over missing her.

      • It sounds strange but you do find a peace. After a month and a half , I know longer cry myself to sleep. I remember her painful crys and her falling and not getting herself up or not being able to walk at all. We as good pet owners have the ability to help our furry loved ones pass over to a beautiful place where they are running free and pain free. I promise you that your baby loves you for that. Do you have FB so that we could share some pictures?

      • I do not have Facebook. Sorry. Its only been four days and people think I should be over her death. Unbelievable.

  11. We had to put our little girl Maggie to sleep today. She was a small little maltese with a big heart and strength of will. She had a pretty hard life at the beginning: her first owner had an abusive boyfriend who threw her around enough that she ended up losing most of her jaw and all of her teeth. She then had a kind owner for several years before circumstances required she be given to a new family. That family was us. We only got to have her for a few short years, but I don’t regret it for a minute. When we first had her checked by the vet, he was amazed at how well she was thriving. She was a joy to have around! We spoiled her quite a bit (kind of figure she had earned it due to her earlier hardships). She slept on our bed with her own pillow…..and she definitely knew that was her personal domain!
    Well, this past couple of months she deteriorated pretty quickly: we found some dreaded lumps and she had almost lost her ability to navigate our stairs. It was such a hard decision, but today was the day. We went to the vet, pillow in-hand, and were with her to the very end. The process itself was so quick and peaceful: shot was administered, she took one breath, then was asleep-on her pillow. When we left her, we left her pillow too. Our princess finished her journey on her “throne.” We love her and are honored that we could provide her with love which she returned many times over.

  12. So sorry for your loss. When I tell people of my little girl Missy and how we helped her pass, I can honestly say that it was a beautiful experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was heart wrenching and the most difficult thing I ever had to do. It was so peaceful and when the vet administered the first shot we were feeding her treats until she fell asleep. And that’s when I saw her so peaceful and she was snoring so loud with a smile on her face. I had not seen her sleep peaceful in months due to her pain. We laid next to her and kissed her and talked to her for close to an hour before we gave the vet those final words. The hardest two words. We’re ready. We all were laying on the living room floor next to her laying on her beddy. In a second she was gone. The vet went and did his things in his mobile unit and we were able to with her for a bit more. The vet came back and carried her away in his arms, Just like a beautiful sleeping baby. It still hurts so bad and I miss her so much. Don’t get me wrong. Euthanasia is a difficult decision yet it give us the opportunity to help our furry babies pass with the love and dignity they deserve.

  13. Yesterday I had to put my sweet Daisy girl to sleep. She was diagnosed with such an aggressive untreatable cancer that she was deteriorating so fast.
    I made the painful decision to put her to sleep before she suffered too much. We were already pumping her full of meds to stop her vomiting & encourage her to eat.
    i organised with the vet to come to my home. I carried Daisy out to her room & tried to lay her on her blanket. Daisy saw the vet & nurse & knew & wanted to get away. I had to hold her tight. The vet tried so many times to get a vein and was shocked at how Daisy had deteriorated in a couple of days.
    She finally managed to find a vein in what a felt was a painful struggle & Daisy passed then peacefully as I held her face & looked in her eyes & told her how much I loved her.
    The pain is unbearable. I feel so awful having to hold my dog so tight so the vet could find a vein. She was scared & I did not want that for her.
    I want to remember her as the most magnificent loving dog, but now I am just in agony thinking of her last couple of minutes with me as a struggle.
    I understand now what unconditional love is, I just hope I can forgive myself & Daisy can too.

  14. Hi guys,

    I had my dog put to sleep today, a jack Russell of 16 years called buster, he was a rescue dog, I worked freelance so he was never alone in the years we had him, he lived with me and my son, we got him when my son started school age 5, my sons now 20 and today we had to let him go to sleep. He had heart problems, a leaky heart valve, he had almost gone blind and deaf but still enjoyed his walks and food, but suddenly at the weekend his back legs failed him, the vet thinks he may have slipped a disc in his spine and surgery was not an option with heart condition and age, we loved him dearly, we have used the same vet all his life he has been well looked after, and this morning we put him to sleep, I held him in my arms while the vet gave in the medication and he drifted of peacefully while I kissed and cuddled him, we buried him in our garden and planted some flowers around his grave. It’s so sad thinking of him in the ground and not in my bed as usuall, but we had no choice, he was distressed as his back legs failed him, he couldn’t toilet and was off his food, he vomited digested blood also this morning indicating a internal bleed so the desicion was made for us almost. Still it’s so sad. The vet said dogs don’t live long enough but just long enough to become a full part of ones life. We love you Buster. Your in peace now. We like to think he is still with us in somehow being in his fave spot in the garden. Be strong people and enjoy your dog every day.

  15. I’ve just come home from putting my 14 year old Pomeranian to sleep. She was an old lady but everyone always mistook her for a puppy because she was so energetic and full of life! I grew up with this dog. About ten days ago she became very ill with liver and pancreas problems. She spent the week overnight in the vets on a drip and was very poorly. I visited her every day. They let her come home for the weekend because her pancreatitis was seemingly improving, she just wasn’t eating. At home, we fed her chicken by hand and liquid food by syringe. Saturday she seemed much better, alert, barking, and running around. We went for a long walk Saturday and Sunday. Sunday night she became very ill and spent two night back in the vets. She developed ulcers in her eyes and they went blue and cloudy and bloodshot. The fur around her eyes was stained red-ish where they were weeping. Got the call last night to say she had liver failure and would have to be put down.

    I can’t stop crying. I feel like I should have put her down last week to stop her suffering. The vets verdict kept flipping between “she’s improving!” and “she’s deteriorating” and if there was a chance of recovery I couldn’t end her life. But now she’s gone anyway and I feel so guilty. I already miss her so much.

    When the vet started with the injection, she went from being very sleepy to very alert, she spun around for a seconds, almost falling off the table. Then her head flopped off to the side and she let out two cries. She passed away very quickly after that (under a minute) My question is: Did she cry because she was scared or in pain? This dog has always been scared of the vets, she always refused injections and pills. But the last week she either accepted and got used to the medicine and IV drips. I now feel like I tricked or betrayed her by allowing the lethal dose to put in her regular IV drip. Was she reacting to a difference in the temperature or “feel” of the anaesthetics compared to the regular fluids, rather than acting out in pain? Either way, she seemed quite frightened, and it was so upsetting to watch. I kind of wished I’d have waited outside instead although I wanted her to feel my hand on her body and hear me say “I love you” as she passed.

    A lot of joy has vanished from my life. I can’t believe we’ll never play or snuggle again, or hear her bark or feed her her favourite foods. We couldn’t even get her to eat a last meal and she had such awful trouble digesting fat towards the end she could only stomach bland foods like chicken or white fish.

    Nonetheless she was a great companion to me. She was as loyal and affectionate as anyone could hope for, and she often made me smile when I was feeling down. I can’t look at another dog without crying. I will love you always, my little Pom.

  16. Today Dip, our 15 year old beagle crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It was a tough decision to make but our vet always told us that when their quality of life changes and they have more bad days than good, you know it’s time. She was suffering from dementia and a collapsed trachea and it got to the point where she was having a hard time breathing, couldn’t walk or stand and stopped eating. It was so hard to see her like this so we knew it was time.

    The vet did not use sedation but instead started an IV solution. Dip did feel momentary pain as the vet inserted the IV needle but that was only a few seconds. The vet was very caring and consoled her after starting the IV. The medication was administered through the IV and took less than a minute before she stopped breathing. We were petting her the whole time and I stroked her face and whispered in her ear that she was a good girl and I loved her. The vet listened for a heartbeat and acknowledge that she was at peace now and left the room so we could have a few minutes alone with her.

    It was an emotional time but I know in my heart that this was the right thing to do. After she was gone… I noticed that there was a sense of peace about her and here face looked unstressed and relaxed. No more fighting to breath or trying to have the strength to stand up to go outside. We love you and will miss you but we will never forget you. RIP Dippy girl.

    • Sorry for you loss. Although a very tough decision, knowing you did the right thing when your baby is suffering will give you a sense of peace. RIP Dip

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