When To Make The Decision To Euthanize Your Pet

Feb 4, 2020 | Pet Health, Pets

I don’t always have a topic in mind when I sit down to write a blog post.  Sometimes I refer back to my notes that I keep on blog post ideas and sometimes, they arrive to me out of the blue.  Today is one of them.  I was walking through Walmart this morning with my sister and talking about a blog topic when we saw one of our veterinarians.  My sister started telling me about a new business he started euthanizing pets at home rather than in his office.  I came home later to find that a friend had to put her beloved dog down.  This breaks my heart and brings back memories of when I had to make this heartbreaking decision.  I don’t think anything can prepare you or comfort you but at least knowing what to expect can hopefully help.  So I decided to put a post together to help answer some of your questions.

When do you know it is time?

When our pets age, they develop illnesses as humans do and your vet can guide you on the proper course of treatment.  In our case with Bear, our 14 year old German Shepard Labrador mix, we were not given good news.  He had cancer.  We were told this tumor would erupt causing severe pain leading to death and the days were ticking.  There was nothing we could do.  Trust me, we tried getting a second opinion but again, we were told there was nothing we could do. Thomas and I agreed that we did not want him to suffer and so I made the dreadful call to our vet and scheduled the day and time he would cross the rainbow bridge.  We laid Bear on the table as the vet explained the Euthanasia process to us.  I held Bear’s sweet face in my hands and as the life faded from his eyes, I heard…he’s gone now.  Bear had given us many wonderful memories and we repaid him by not putting him through the pain and suffering he would have endured if we had chosen to keep him alive for our own selfishness.

When we had to put Lady, our 15 year old Brittany down, she had had a stroke in the middle of the night.  We rushed her to a 24 hour emergency vet wrapped in her favorite blanket where we were told we could keep her on medication but she would not have quality of life.  We made the painful decision to euthanize her. I still remember laying on the floor with her at the vets office, her heart racing, her eyes darting back and forth and telling her we loved her and would not want her to suffer.  We held her and then she was gone.  This meant we had only Bella now and my heart broke because we had to leave her alone in the house that night without Lady and then come back without her forever.  Bella never recovered after losing Bear and Lady in such a short period of time, developed diabetes and depression and within 2 months, she was gone.  She looked beautiful and peaceful the day I left her for only a short period of time to run to the store and when I got home, I found her laying by the door.  I think she loved me so much that she didn’t want me to see her pass and made the decision for me.  They say she passed of a heart attack.

It does not matter how or when you lose a pet, it hurts and it hurts for a long time.

Mom, when are you going to be done with that blog? I'm waiting for you to pay attention to me!!!

Here are some signs that may indicate your pet is suffering or no longer enjoying a good quality of life:

-He is experiencing chronic pain that cannot be controlled with medication (your veterinarian can help you determine if your pet is in pain).
-He has frequent vomiting or diarrhea that is causing dehydration and/or significant weight loss.
-He has stopped eating or will only eat if you force feed him.
-He is incontinent to the degree that he frequently soils himself.
-He has lost interest in all or most of his favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing with toys or other pets, eating treats or soliciting attention and petting from family members.
-He cannot stand on his own or falls down when trying to walk.
-He has chronic labored breathing or coughing.

Saying goodbye

-Make arrangements for your loved ones to say goodbye.
-If you have children, explain to them what is happening and allow them to grieve.  Buy books that help explain and help them through their grieving process.  A few examples of books are:  When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers or Remembering My Pet by Machama Liss-Levinson and Molly Phinney Baskette.
-Decide if you want to be alone or have your loved ones around you during the process.
-Ask if your vet will come to the house to help cross your pet over or if you have to go into the office.
-In Bear’s case, my sister brought over ice cream for him to eat that morning.  We spent time alone saying our goodbyes.

What to expect

-Your veterinarian will generally explain the procedure to you before he or she begins.
-Make sure that your pet has a comfortable blanket or bed to lie on.
-Don’t let the vet or vet technician tell you that you cannot be present during the process.
-Your veterinarian will give your pet an overdose of an anesthetic drug called sodium pentobarbital, which quickly causes unconsciousness and then gently stops the heartbeat. -Your veterinarian will draw the correct dose of the drug into a syringe and then inject it into a vein. In dogs, the front leg is most commonly used. In cats, either the front or rear leg may be used. The injection itself is not painful to your pet.
-Often, veterinarians will place an intravenous (IV) catheter in the pet’s vein before giving the injection. The catheter will reduce the risk that the vein will rupture as the drug is injected. If the vein ruptures, then some of the drug may leak out into the leg, and it will not work as quickly.
-Your veterinarian may give your pet an injection of anesthetic or sedative before the injection of sodium pentobarbitol. This is most often done in pets that are not likely to hold still for the IV injection. An anesthetic or sedative injection is usually given in the rear leg muscle and will take effect in about five to 10 minutes. Your pet will become very drowsy or unconscious, allowing the veterinarian to more easily perform the IV injection.
-Once the IV injection of sodium pentobarbitol is given, your pet will become completely unconscious within a few seconds, and death will occur within a few minutes or less.
-Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to confirm that your pet’s heart has stopped.
-Your pet may experience some muscle twitching and intermittent breathing for several minutes after death has occurred. Your pet may also release his bladder or bowels. These events are normal and should not be cause for alarm.
-After your veterinarian has confirmed that your pet has passed, he or she will usually ask if you would like to have a few final minutes alone with your pet.
Your pet may still have their eyes open.  You can close them yourself.

Burial and Cremation Options

-We chose to have Bear, Bella, and Lady cremated.  Our vet referred us to a funeral home who does pet cremations.  I chose the urns and the dollar amounts we wanted to spend and made the arrangements with the funeral director.
-You can pick a place to bury your pet but please check with city ordinances for any restrictions first.
-You can also find a pet cemetery via The International Association Of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC) at https://www.iaopc.com/default.aspx

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  1. Sharon

    Always a sad topic. You covered it very nicely. Thank you.

    • Bobbi

      You are welcome.


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