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.

178 responses to “On Euthanasia: What to Expect

  1. Michelle , so sorry you for your loss. Even well over a year on from having Charlie put to sleep I still occasionally ask myself those questions, was it to soon , did I wait to long, could I have made it any better, how did she feel at the end ? Those questions from the moment she was put to sleep came every minute of every day for ages and ages. From speaking to other people and looking on various websites I really believe this is the course of grief. It happens with any grief whether it is a furry friend or not. To be truthful I have had this with all of my dogs that I have said goodbye to. One of my dogs made a noise after she was sedated, her breathing sounded different and noisy, but I don’t believe for a minute she was in pain or suffering. The sedation was given to sedate and relax her and no matter that I found it alarming with the breathing changing, it did just that. The final injection came quickly. I will, in the not to distant future, have to make that decision again and I will definitely have the sedation again. I will then start the questions , could I have done anything differently , why didn’t I do this , was it to soon , was it to late and even though I know this is grief , I will do it all the same. Everything is so raw for you at the moment, but believe me this will pass . I couldn’t even have out a photo of Charlie for ages. Then a couple of months ago I decided to put some on the fridge of all my dogs when they were younger and full of fun, I haven’t been able to put any out of Charlie looking into the camera just yet, but have some nice ones out where she and her brother were playing and if those questions start creeping into my mind I go and have a good look at them and it helps me. You did your very best and made a difficult decision knowing it would break your heart but did it anyway, that says an awful lot about the lovely family he must have had.

  2. I had to put my dog to sleep today and it didn’t seem very peaceful. It appeared that the sedation shot caused very labored and difficult breathing. I’m so worried that she suffered.

    • Sorry for your loss Eva. One of my dogs had laboured breathing after sedation which concerned me at the time but the sedation did what it was meant to do and sedated her before the final injection. I have been on several websites and read people’s accounts and I do not believe she was aware of anything or suffered, I have chosen sedation each time I have had to make that difficult decision and unfortunately I will have to make that decision again in the not to distant future and Jack will be sedated. When we have to make such a dreadful but necessary decision we are always left with questions about how we could of done things differently, was it the right time, to late, to soon and many others. These thoughts whizz around your head. I think this is all part of the grieving process. We never question things when the vet is there because we are going through such a traumatic experience but there is no reason why you can’t speak to the vet about your concerns I’m sure they would be happy to answer your questions and I don’t think you will be the first to do this. Take care

    • Eva my dog was put to sleep feb 15th after 14 years together, the sedative shot after about 8 minutes changed his breathing so much it scared me.. I panicked and thought he was suffering… it felt like a horrible experience. This is night two I can’t sleep. After the second shot it was seconds. I feel tortured right now but trying to believe that he didn’t knoe anything even with the breathing, I am so sad I can’t see straight, Lisa Hughes KC Missouri

      • Sorry for your loss Lisa, After one of my dogs had the sedative, her breathing also changed and I had concerns about this at the time but the sedation did what it was meant to do and sedated her before the final injection. I have been on several websites and read people’s accounts and I do not believe she was aware of anything or suffered, I have chosen sedation each time I have had to make that difficult decision and will do so again. we are always left with questions and I believe that is all a part of grief. It is such a dreadful event that we never ask the vet at the time because we are heartbroken and emotional, but there is no reason that you can’t phone them now and ask them, you won’t be the first person to do it and I am sure they will be happy to answer your questions. Take care

  3. My sweet, almost 14 year old black lab Winston, is scheduled for euthanasia at our home next Tuesday, 2/21/17. Noon to be exact. I can’t bear to go thru the next few days waiting for this thing to go down. I bought him a yummy steak for his breakfast that day. Vet said I could make him sleepy that day with 2 Gabapentin caps of 300 mg each about an hour or so before vet comes. He will know smell of vet hospital on the vet when doc comes here. I so wish he wouldn’t have to smell that, as I’m sure it will make him anxious. I’m hoping the gabapentin will chill him enuf, that perhaps he won’t smell the “vet hospital smell” I am grieving already and he’s not even gone. Hate this part of having a pet, but is what it is, and we owe them nothing but the best, and certainly a dignified death.

    • Melanie, sorry to hear you have come to the difficult and sad time. Always had my dear dogs put to sleep at home. I have only had one dog who was pleased to see the vet and she struggled to her feet to greet her, she was put to sleep on a summers day in the garden. One of my dogs had tablets to relax her before the vet came (can’t remember what they were) which did work and she drifted off to sleep until the vet came and then was wide awake. There is not much you can do about the vet smell, our furry friends have incredible noses. Just make that last day the best you can , a nice walk if possible , that lovely steak and as hard as it is try and stay relaxed as you can, they pick up such a lot from us. Also have a plate of cheese and sausages chopped up ready for when the vet gets there, feed these tasty bits to Winston to distract him and hopefully the smell of the food will help. Have fed all of mine during the actual procedure . Ask the vet to tell you when to stop feeding the food. I can remember the vet saying as I held Betty and was feeding her, she won’t need that bit and despite the second before she was chomping away, she was right. It was that quick. Take care.

  4. We euthanized our sweet Murphy today. He was a rat jack so I was nervous that he would be very stressed and anxious. It was actually very peaceful at our vet’s office. He layed on his special blanket, tensed a bit when his leg was shaved to see the vein. I cradled him and told him how much I love him and that he is a good boy. No sedatives, the vet injected him and he was gone in seconds. I wound up on this page bc I was concerned that his tongue was sticking out after he passed. I’m happy to see it is normal.

  5. They took my lil pug back to put in a IV and give him something to relax him. When he came back his eyes were wide open and his body limp.I was so sad I did not notice if was even alive. I said my goodbyes and ask for the vet, she gave 2 injections the second his eyelids came down and she checked his heart. She was gone. What would have made her have eyes wide open? Was she gone before the shots? She was 14. This is really upsetting me. Did not think of this till later.

    • Tina, sorry to hear of your loss. When I had Charlie put to sleep last year her eyes were still open after the second shot. I remember this, as one of the tests the vet did to check she had died was to touch the eye gently. I don’t think this was the case with my other dogs. The quickness of everything happening was not a shock to me as I was in the room when the IV went in. Most people have questions whizzing round their heads when they have to make this heartbreaking decision. There is no reason why you cannot speak to your vet about your concerns, you won’t be the first person to do this. Take care

  6. I forgot to put website in. This is Tina.

  7. I posted once already but found out some info. I went to pay for my little pig to go to heaven. While gone thru asked my husband if she weighted 30lb. He said yes she only weight 15. My husband has had a stroke and did no realize. When they brought Gizmo back
    She was gone my question is they were only supposed to sedate her. Did she go to sleep, was there any suffering with the overdose of sedation meds. As this was not our regular vet she was not available that day I don’t feel comfortable asking what happened in the back because they got the wrong information from my husband I just want to know that the medicine they gave her to sedate her which was too much because they thought her weight was 30 pounds but it was 15 did she go peacefully. I just need this for my own peace of mind and so I can forgive my husband who has no idea what he did it was not his fault

  8. Hello Tina, that is a massive difference between 15 and 30lb .I think the vet who deals with animals all day would have known that wasn’t right. Let’s hope there is a vet or veterinary nurse out there who might be able to answer your question.

  9. I had my 14yr old Collie lab cross put to sleep last Wednesday, he had no leg muscle in any legs and had lost 2kg in weight in just 4 weeks, he had athritis too. I with my husband and 15yr old son took him to the vets and stayed with him while he was put to sleep, we weren’t asked about the sedation, it was very quick, his eyes closed and he started to lay down then I noticed his eyes were open and I knew he’d passed away. It is a hard decision to make but as my vet told me your pet will let you know when it’s time. I miss him so very much and my house feels empty without him but I know he’s no longer in any pain and I did right by him.

  10. Just put our 8 yr old havenese dog down. It was the hardest experience in my life. We loved him very much but he was a biter. We put up with him biting us for yrs besides other people and where we have grandkids now we couldn’t take the chance. Yet he was loVing too. A very difficult to dicision to make. The vet gave him a double sedative. He finally laud down but was fighting it. Shook his head once and kept licking his snout as I’m sure he was very dry. Life seemed to be leaving his body b4 the final drug. I wanted to grab him and take him home but I knew it was too late…I can’t stop crying and the house is so empty without him. I keep thinking he was very uncomfortable during the sedation and I feel so guilty:( how will I ever get over this:(

  11. Helpful article. Thank you

  12. I had my dog Paddy euthanased a couple of months ago due to aggressive behaviour. I am still heartbroken. The procedure was horrific for both us and him. We were given a sedative to try the night before which didn’t work, so on the evening of the appointment I gave him double, which still didn’t have any effect.
    The vet said we’d have to muzzle him. The vet then gave him a strong sedative injection which still didn’t work. He was walking all around the surgery crying. He gave him another. By this time I was having a panicking attack and both my husband and I were crying. I was horrified. Surely he shoukd have weighed Paddy before he administered the sedative to make sure it woukd work??? Needless to say, his final moments were not peaceful, but filled with pain and horror. I just can’t move past it all. I have 2 new cavapoo puppues who I adore, but I cannot get Paddy’s look out of my head. I feel so guilty.
    Shoukd I take things further with the vet so this doesn’t happen to anyone else?;

  13. William C Keebler

    My best friend, Hoosier, a papillion Yorkshire, was euthanized over two years ago, due to congestive heart failure, leading to acute kidney failure. Hoosier was given the one injection method as I had no clue what to expect. If I had to do it over again I would have asked for sedation prior. He fell dead after two head bounces rather quickly and appeared to have suffered in that final few moments. I still think about him daily.

    • Sorry for your loss William. I have only had one of my dogs put to sleep without sedation and that was many many years ago. I was lucky to have a vet that travelled to my home even when I moved away and my lovely girl absolutely adored her so there was no fear. I fed her cheese whilst the injection was given and she was happily eating when the vet said she won’t need that next bit and her head dropped immediately into my hand. It wasn’t till years later and after having other dogs put to sleep with sedation that I realised that she had the best death of all, she didn’t have time to start feeling woosey or strange , it was so sudden which was a shock for me but for her I think it was the best. I think that vets should explain what is going to happen so we have some idea of what to expect. I have had dogs put to sleep after having a sedative and each time it has been different. I think the one thing that is always the same no matter what is that we all feel full of guilt and have these last moments playing on a loop in our minds for years and the questions that we ask ourselves about how we could have done things differently , I think this is part of the grieving process. I still find myself one and a half years on getting totally overwhelmed with the loss of my dog and even though I still have her brother I miss her dreadfully. I couldn’t even look at a photo of her for ages, but the when I realised how badly this was affecting me, I looked out some of the early years photos of all my dogs, when they were getting up to mischief and stuck them on my fridge which in time started to help. Still can’t look at a photo in which she is staring into the lense, but in time I’m hopeful. I have started on the long goodbye with her brother now and hope we get to spend this last summer together and no matter how the end goes, I know I will be wondering if I should have done things differently.

      Take care

      christine

  14. I had to put my little parson Russell to sleep yesterday. I knew this day was coming for 5 months but it didn’t make it any easier to call that shot. He had a mass in his chest that radiated up into his neck. It had began to press on some nerves and he had difficulty sometimes walking and really messed with his coordination. He got to where he would lay around a lot. His breathing was affected by the mass pressing on his esophagus…he would choke on his food. I couldn’t watch him suffer anymore and I knew he was in pain. I had never done this before and I was afraid of it. Fortunately my daughter is studying to be a vet and works with a great clinic. They came to my home and he didn’t receive sedation the shot was given outright. I never knew he had gone. I had to ask because as I sat there with him all I knew was that he had stopped breathing. he went so peacefully and it was only seconds. I wonder now that without the sedation how long after his heart stopped di his brain continue to function…could he hear me tell him how very much I loved him even after he stopped breathing?

    • Sorry for your loss. It is always hard to make that final decision I am in the process again of that long goodbye . So glad it was quick and that he didn’t have a chance to be frightened. They say the hearing is the last thing to go so he could have heard your last words to him, but even if he didn’t I am sure he knew he was loved and that you were close by.

      Take care
      Christine

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