On Euthanasia: What Happens After

Up to this point, we’ve discussed many aspects of euthanizing a beloved dog. To review, we’ve talked about making the decision, scheduling the appointment, and what will happen during the process itself. Today I’d like to discuss another important consideration: what happens after your dog is gone, including considerations for those of you with multiple pets.

Photo by Kelvin Andow

Photo by Kelvin Andow

After your pet is euthanized, you can choose to spend some time with the body if you would like. No vet should ever rush you after your pet has been euthanized, and you can take as long as you need to say goodbye. I spent a few moments sitting with Dobby, then brought my other two dogs out to see his body. If you have other pets, you can decide whether to let them see the body or not.

Remember that animals don’t grieve in the same way we do, so your pets may not appear to notice the body or may not respond to it in a way that looks sad.

Layla took a brief look at Dobby’s body, then flirted with her vet. Since I have done multiple compassion holds (where an unadoptable dog spends their final days or weeks in my home), Layla is very familiar with the process and I believe she understands euthanasia. In the weeks after Dobby was gone, Layla was visibly brighter and more playful – a response I didn’t expect. She appeared to feel a sense of relief that he was gone, which makes sense when we consider that she’d been in essence walking on eggshells around him for the past year so as not to provoke him. Layla started playing with toys again, something she hadn’t done for over a year, and was wiggly and snuggly.

Mischief was very excited and waggy when she came outside. She sniffed all around on the ground and sniffed Dobby’s body, tail wagging. She paused for a brief moment and stiffened up when she got to his face, which she sniffed once with a still tail, then she moved away and started sniffing the ground with her tail wagging again. While this may not have looked very much like grief to us, her behavior in the days following Dobby’s euthanasia was very depressed and she needed a lot of extra reassurance. I do think that she was aware of what had happened. She slept a lot for several weeks after Dobby’s death and asked for a lot of extra snuggles. She seemed especially lost at night, when she would pace and wander. She had previously slept curled up with Dobby, and really seemed to miss her snuggle buddy. Dobby also used to groom her regularly, licking her face and the insides of her ears and nibbling on her neck and shoulders. I invited Mischief to sleep with me, and she would crawl under the covers and curl up by my belly gratefully.

Every dog responds to loss differently, and your dog may show relief like Layla, depression like Mischief, or no change at all. Just like people are very individual in how we cope with grief, so too are dogs. During this time, stick to your dog’s routine as closely as possible and let your dog’s behavior drive your response.

You will get to choose what happens to your euthanized dog’s body. You can keep the body to bury personally, have it buried at a pet cemetery, or choose cremation (either individually or with a group of animals, and with or without the ashes returned to you). I chose to have Dobby’s body cremated individually and will get his ashes back. It can be helpful to think about this decision well in advance.

Remember to take care of yourself afterwards. Allow yourself time to grieve. I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend and a best friend who each took a day off work to spend with me so that I wouldn’t have to be alone afterwards. If you do not have family or friends who are supportive of the grieving process, the ASPCA offers a free pet grief hotline that you can call. Many animal shelters and humane societies also offer pet loss support groups that you could go to.

One topic that often goes unaddressed when a pet dies is the sense of relief you may feel afterwards. I know many pet owners who have felt guilty when they experienced this, especially in the case of a behavioral euthanasia, and want to address it.

While I feel very sad about Dobby’s euthanasia, lonely without his special presence in my life, and a little guilty that his final moments could not be more peaceful, I also feel relieved that it’s over. I would do it again – all of it – in a heartbeat for the chance to be with him again, but I also have to admit that daily life is simply easier without the constant management and care that Dobby required. In his case, the management happened so gradually that I didn’t even realize how very much I was doing to keep him and others safe until I no longer needed to do it. Simple tasks like letting my dogs outside and getting ready to leave for the day are no longer fraught with a list of checks and double-checks that I had to take as a precaution. I no longer have to worry about little things that could cause Dobby to become stressed and therefore have a seizure. I feel like I can breathe easier with him gone, even though at times each breath hurts because I miss him so much.

Feeling this relief doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person or that I didn’t love him like crazy, and if you find yourself feeling this way there’s nothing wrong with you either. Sometimes it’s just as hard to live with our beloved dogs as it is to live without them, and acknowledging this doesn’t make the love we feel for them any less real.

In the end, euthanasia can be one of the kindest things we can do for the dogs we love. I hope that this series has helped you to better understand and prepare for the process with your own beloved companions, or has brought you peace if you have already been through it with a pet. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t ever get easier. Please feel free to share your own experiences with our community in the comments section below. Sharing can be healing, and there’s been a lot of love in the comments this past month.

I’m incredibly grateful that I had the chance to know and love Dobby, my sweet, earnest, special little dog with the lightning-striped legs. I’m also grateful for the chance to get to know your special dogs through your comments. Thanks for the love.

20 responses to “On Euthanasia: What Happens After

  1. I lost two of my Dogs with in a three week time frame. Odie just got really sick one day they think it was from a tick bite he spent the nite at the vet’s office ( I work there) the next morning I came to work a little early to check on him,he passed away sometime that nite.A few weeks latter Dottie was having trouble walking come to find out she had a build up of fluid on her heart and was starting to go in to her abdomen tried meds but it was a little to late I had to make the choice do I let her suffer or give her peace. This was the first time I ever stayed with a dog when they were sent to Heaven it was so peaceful.I miss them both so much. But it did open the door for a new family member Teri a three old terrier mix who was welcomed by my fourteen year old lab Jodie.

  2. Thank you for this series. While not easy to read, having just gone through it for the first time as an adult with my two 14 year old dogs, who I lost within 10 days of each other, I think it is important to know what to expect and what all the options are. I was able to let both my girls go in our own home, and their cast paw prints are such a treasure to me now. As Eileen above said, I opened my home to another dog right away.

  3. Melissa McPherson

    I recently had to have my 17 year old papillion euthanized. I good friend had experienced this many times and recommended that when the time came, to ask the vet to request an impression of my dogs paw print. The vet can request that the cremation service do this. In my grief, I forgot to ask and thought of it late that night. The next morning I called the crematory and they were glad to provide my dogs paw print, either on paper with ink, or in clay. I now tell anyone going through the same experience to ask for this.

  4. Thank you for this well-written post, and the whole series on euthanasia. I have never read anything about the sense of post-euthanasia relief that you mention, but I’ve experienced it with several pets. My pets were euthanized for health rather than behavioral reasons, but still, caring for them had become very stressful and time-consuming as they became older and more ill. In May, I said goodbye to my first dog, who was about 13 years old and suffered from Cushings and worsening arthritis in her hips. The Cushings was under control, but even with several different medications, the arthritis was causing her to fall down and have difficulty getting up. On top of that, she was sleeping very poorly at night (probably partly from physical discomfort and partly from dementia). I couldn’t leave her home alone very long, and I wasn’t getting much sleep, and I felt guilty that euthanizing her would be to make my life easier rather than free her from suffering. Making the decision to euthanize her was heartbreaking, but there is no question that removing the stress of worrying and caring for her was a big relief for me and my family, even though I loved her and miss her.

  5. Thank you for this. We lost our boy very suddenly in March – a normal morning routine but he started throwing up. Thought it was an upset tummy. Ten hours later ER visit turns up hemangioma sarcoma, a large mass on his lungs and pericardial effusion. Triple whammy and no options but letting him go (he was 8). We did bring his body home for our other dog to see, sniff, etc. She smelled him, sat next to him and started shaking. She slept in the living room with him that night. She was definitely more quiet, less interested in going into the yard and to this day, won’t sleep in our bed where he used to sleep (although when he was still with us, she liked to sneak in his spot until he came back to bed). It took her a couple months to get active in the yard again – and I think there are still moments she looks for him, or just catches a smell of him on something. I’m so sorry for you loss, and appreciate your blog. I hope we can find another buddy for her – but not rushing it. She just had a stage 2 mast cell tumor removed in September – just getting our ducks in a row – maybe the new year.

  6. Thank you for discussing the sense of relief you can feel after you have euthanized your pet. My dog had cancer and I chose to try chemo to hopefully cure him or give him a longer life. When the chemo stopped working we began a period of time where we kept him comfortable and happy. However, his cancer had caused him to become incontinent (he wore a pad and belt so he could stay in the house) and anorexic and he had to take meds to control his pain. I don’t regret any of the things I had to do to let him have the extra 8 months of life we gained. The day that I realized he was beginning to have constant pain I made the decision that he had fought long enough. It was very difficult as he looked happy, was eating well and only showed signs of pain when he was alone and didn’t know he was being observed. My vet (a close friend) agreed that he was carrying on for me and that he was probably in much more pain than he showed. He was euthanized surrounded by his friends a family. After it was over I felt an enormous sense of relief that the decision was over. I also realized how physically exhausted I was. I had been getting up with him multiple times during the night for months and laying awake worrying about how he was doing. I also felt an irrational fear that I had made a mistake euthenizing him. Thank goodness I was surrounded by dog friends that had been through this with me.

  7. On reading this second time around I must thank you for a wonderfully written piece, and series. You covered so many things to think about in the process of deciding, during and after – thank you for this. I am sure it will be of great help to me when the time comes to say goodbye to my pets, whether it be through natural causes or euthanasia.

  8. Will someone please explain to me exactly what is a “pet cemetery”? I picture my pet tossed into a hole after euthanasia at the vet’s office. Maybe I should have brought him home…..I don’t know.
    Regretfully,
    Pam

  9. I had my German Shepherd put to sleep the day before yesterday. The proceedure was exceptionally upsetting because he seemed as if he were fighting against it I had to hold him down
    At this point the vet have administered half the dose in his leg then gave him an anesthetic in his neck I then had to waig for that to take effect. I cannot get the vision out of my mind and am devestated that he may have been experiencing pain what do you think ?

    Nigel

  10. My parents are going through a tough time right now. They have a large (100lb) 7 year old German Short Haired Pointer. He has epilepsy. Until now they have been able to control his seizures. Unfortunately this past week they became very frequent. He has not been able to walk. He is now in the ER. They seem to have been able to stop seizures for now with very heavy meds. Once they lower doses now they are going to see if he can stay seizure free. If not, my parents may need to make this difficult decision. I am unsure which is more heartbreaking- what is going on with the dog himself or watching my parents try to cope with this tough road. My husband and I have been trying to be there for them but there really hasn’t been much they have wanted us to do. Not sure how this will end. Thank you for your thigh it’s on this topic.

    • Update my parents had to put their dog down. In addition to the problems mentioned above they found 3 masses in their dog. He was no longer eating and there was nothing more they could do for him. It was a very sad day.

  11. My parents are going through a tough time right now. They have a large (100lb) 7 year old German Short Haired Pointer. He has epilepsy. Until now they have been able to control his seizures. Unfortunately this past week they became very frequent. He has not been able to walk. He is now in the ER. They seem to have been able to stop seizures for now with very heavy meds. Once they lower doses now they are going to see if he can stay seizure free. If not, my parents may need to make this difficult decision. I am unsure which is more heartbreaking- what is going on with the dog himself or watching my parents try to cope with this tough road. My husband and I have been trying to be there for them but there really hasn’t been much they have wanted us to do. Not sure how this will end. Thank you for your thoughts on this topic.

  12. Thank you so much for writing so sensitively and perceptively about this subject. I am having to consider euthanising one of my 17 yr old – her quality of life has deteriorated very quickly due to neurological issues. Your articles have addressed the gamut of emotions and questions i have about this huge decision, the biggest of which is “am i holding on to her for my sake?” And conversely “am i considering it for my sake?” My main feeling is that i cannot bear to see my beautiful happy bouncy girl reduced to a sad, wobbly mess who falls over while eating her dinner. Your articles have helped so much to clarify this emotive issue – thankyou.

  13. All the posts are so lovely and comforting. I just had my Clay put to sleep as he couldn’t manage any more, he had dementia and muscle wastage and kept falling over and crashing into things. Does anyone know how he is kept at the vets surgery? I was told the cremation company had collected already this morning and they wouldn’t be collecting my dog till Monday now. Does that sound right?

  14. Thanks for this! My wife and I are preparing to take our beloved Boston Rat Terrier (who looks like neither of those breeds) to the vet for this purpose in a few minutes. We had hoped to let him pass peacefully at home but this morning his illness seemed to progress and he seemed very noticeably in pain. This really gave me some better perspective and I appreciate it.

  15. Thank you

  16. Thank you for your site. It was the worst heart breaking moment in my life to end my precious toy poodle ‘Apricot’s’ life. She entered my life at a low point in my life…her and I were attached to each others ‘hip’. Although, she was small she gave me a wonderful life and much warmth and many smiles. She was only 7yrs when I had to make my decision to end her pain and the vet could do nothing more to ease her discomfort. This event took place in 2002. I think of her each day and she will never leave my heart. I miss her terribly and will never forget the love she gave me. I don’t feel I’ll ever get over loosing her…how can I. I lost my best friend.

  17. Thank you for this. My sweet pug had diabetes, recurring bladder stones and would get pancreatitis here and there to go along Witt it all. He was 9 and we decided he’s been through enough. On Tuesday, after careful consideration with our vet, we put our beloved Pedro to rest. I’m very upset, I miss him so much, but as you mentioned above I feel relieved. There is no more worrying about who’s going to be home to give him insulin twice a day and feed him and who’s going to come let him out when we’re gone for the day so he doesn’t have accidents in the house… Will anyone give him his needles if we want to go on vacation (which we haven’t really been able to do since his diagnosis). All of these thoughts make me feel like a horrible person. As if being away is better than being with my loyal pup. It’s not, I would take him back in a second if he could be healthy and happy. I’m just glad that I’m not the only one that feels this way and maybe I’m not so horrible. Thank you for your post.

  18. We put our shih tzu to sleep today. We had Drew for 14 years. Our 2 kids grew up with him. I am heartbroken. I miss him so much and can’t stop crying. We have 2 other dogs, not sure that they notice. I held him the entire time. He started to snore just like at home. After he was gone the vet told me that dogs get glacoma just like humans. Drew went blind, he did not age gracefully. I thought that was rude. But more than anything I miss him.

  19. My husband and I just put our 8 year old Shih Tzu, Little Buddy Love to sleep this past Friday. I am feeling so guilty, like i killed my baby. My heart hurts with the lose of my devoted, loving sweet natured “Buddy Baby”. We felt this was the only way to end his suffering. In May, Buddy was constantly licking his abdomen and inside of his back legs, he always was a licker so I dismissed it at first. He then got his first ear infection. This was so intense, the fluid ran out of his ear. The vet gave us a round of antibiotics, after sedating him and flushing his ears. He seemed to recover and the ear infection got better. After about 3 weeks the ear infection came back, another trip to the vet. This time it was decided that he had severe allergies causing all the licking, so got more antibiotics, plus Apoquel to treat the allergy. He seemed better, ears cleared up and stopped the constant licking. This lasted about another month. The allergies started up again, got more Apoquel (which is very expensive). This time the medicine did not help he kept licking constantly he had such a bad odor coming from his body. I would give him a bath, and he would still stink so bad. Also, the Apoquel made him a dog zombie, just laying around sleeping acting very depressed. One day he looked at me with squinty eyes looking so miserable, I almost made the appointment to put him to sleep that day, but my husband said quit with the Apoquel already! So I tried, he was licking anyway so I stopped giving him the drug. It did make him up perk up even though he was itching constantly. His skin was getting worse and spreading, he had gray crusty patches forming all over his body, dragging his butt around to try to itch areas he couldn’t lick. This Wednesday, he got another ear infection, I just felt that was the signal to stop this insanity. I got the appointment to put him down on. I spent the next two days with him constantly, trying to let him do the things he enjoyed, like going out in our yard and looking for the feral cats that live in our neighborhood. I also gave him loads of love, scratching his back and petting him. We took him to the vet., they weighed him and it turns out he lost 4 lbs. in about 2 months, but was still eating pretty much like normal. So I think he must have had even more serious things going on like cancer. The actual euthanazia was very humane. They put a catheter in his front leg and while I was holding him the vet gave him a sedative to make him sleepy and then told me to hold him and love him up, while he also said many loving things to Buddy while he administered the overdose. Buddy never made a sound, his body just totally relaxed into my arms. Shortly, after that the vet checked his heart and told me he was gone. We wrapped him in a special blanket that was his and took him home and buried him in our back yard, where we have made a marker with his name and date of birth and death. This is the second day since he went to the next stage of his spirit life, I am so sad and miss him so much! This site has helped me feel less guilty about my decision, so I thank you all for sharing your story!

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