Ask A Vet: Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Euthanasia

Euthanasia is a taboo topic, but is unfortunately a big part of a veterinarian’s career. I believe that it is good to be open and honest about the process and the need for it. Below are some frequently asked questions about pet euthanasia. If you have additional questions, please comment on this post or ask your pet’s veterinarian. 

How do you live with yourself for euthanizing so many animals?

I hear a variation of this phrase daily and, unfortunately, I have to help pets cross the rainbow bridge at least a couple of times per week. People often say, “I wanted to be a vet but then I realized that I’d have to put down animals.” These people do not really understand euthanasia or its purpose. 

The word euthanasia literally translates to “good death.” Euthanasia isn’t senseless killing or population control. It isn’t the first treatment in the arsenal that we reach for when something isn’t going our way. Euthanasia is our very last option. Often, euthanasia is also our very best option. 

I have made peace with the euthanasias I perform. I have done this by realizing that I am helping these animals by alleviating their suffering and stress. There have been very few cases in my career where the animals are being put to sleep because of severe behavioral issues such as aggression or for not being able to find a home. However, most of the time the animals I put to sleep are actively suffering with no hope of a cure in sight. 

Will a vet put an animal to sleep if they are not dying?

The answer to this question is yes and no. It depends primarily on the veterinarian and if the reason for euthanasia is ethical and in the best interest of the animal, the owners, and society.

In the rare cases where I am euthanizing an animal who is not on their deathbed, I have to take some time to consider why I am being asked to euthanize the animal. Is the dog or cat dangerous to other animals or people? Has the owner tried all other options and been unable to find a suitable plan? What will happen to the animal if I do not put it to sleep today? 

If I can answer these questions with honest and satisfactory answers, then I will perform the euthanasia. If I cannot answer these questions, I do not perform the euthanasia. I only perform euthanasia when the procedure is what is best for the animal and humans in the household and when all other options have been exhausted or are not feasible.

What happens during a euthanasia? 

The technique and procedure used for euthanasia vary from vet-to-vet. Some veterinarians my place indwelling IV catheters in the forearm/front leg of the pet prior to administering a sedative and euthanasia solution. Other vets may give a small sedative injection in the muscle of the animal first, and then administer the euthanasia solution intravenously. In some cases, the euthanasia solution may be given by injection through other routes, such as by a needle in the thoracic or abdominal cavity. Almost all veterinarians fully sedate the pet prior to giving the euthanasia solution, so the pet is not aware of what is happening and will not feel being put to sleep. For the pet, they experience the prick of the sedative injection or the placement of the IV, and the rest of the process is as gentle as going to sleep.

What happens to the animals after euthanasia?

After euthanizing a pet, the owner can decide how they would like to handle the pet’s remains. Most veterinary clinics offer cremation options. These cremation options will likely include cremation with ash return- in which your pet is privately cremated, the ashes are saved, and then they are returned to you in an urn or box. You can often customize the urn and have clay paw prints made by the crematorium. Jewelry, picture frames, and other add ons may also be available. 

If you don’t want to keep your pet’s ashes (or cremains) with you, your pet can be cremated alongside other pets. The crematorium may then bury or scatter your pet’s ashes. Some facilities have public places where these ashes are scattered where you can visit if you would like. Other places scatter the cremains on private farms or locations. 

The last option is that you can take your pet’s remains home with you for burial, or arrange burial with a pet cemetery.  Be aware that at home burial may be very difficult for large pets, and burial in a pet cemetery can be costly. Also, there may be local ordinances governing if and how you are able to bury your pet. Be sure to check into any local statutes prior to saying goodbye to your pet, as you do not want to have to deal with any added stress during this time.

Can I euthanize my dog or cat myself at home?

Absolutely not. There is no safe way to euthanize your animal that is not in direct violation of the Protecting Animals against Cruelty and Torture act (PACT), which was signed by president Trump in 2019. Any method of at home euthanasia not performed by veterinary personnel is likely unreliable, unsafe, unethical, and may cause you pet to experience unnecessary suffering or pain. There are companies that send hospice veterinarians to your home to perform euthanasia, such as At Home Pet Euthanasia and Lap of Love Pet Hospice, if you want to avoid taking your pet to a vet clinic to say goodbye.

If you are currently going through the process of considering euthanasia for your own pet, I am very sorry that you are having to make end-of-life decisions for your beloved pet. I recommend that you discuss your pet’s quality of life with your veterinarian. There are also several online quality of life scales that may help you decide when the timing is right.

I hope that this post helped answer any questions that you may have about the pet euthanasia process. If you have additional questions, please comment below or ask your veterinarian for clarification.

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