Euthanasia: Common Questions

The following is a brief discussion about questions I am often asked:


What to expect from my visit

It is important that we discuss the reasons that have brought all of us together for this procedure. I will never attempt to push you in a different direction unless you aren’t comfortable with your decision or don’t feel the timing is right. In most cases, we will have discussed this during the phone consultation when the appointment is made. However, it is often the case when I arrive, that the pet’s condition has improved and there is some concern about whether to proceed. If that occurs, I want to make sure that everyone involved wants to move forward and, if so, I will proceed with a sedative to put your pet into a relaxed “twilight” state.

The "right" time

Many pet owners ask me if I can give them a formula for determining when “it’s time.” Having been put in this position with my wonderful cat, Smudge, I can honestly say, that you will “know” when the final time has arrived. There will be an intuition and knowledge in regard to your pet’s situation that will let you “feel” when it’s the proper timing. I do believe that it’s important to understand that our pets are not “little people” from the standpoint of suffering or quality of life. They are are in the “moment,” are not emotional,  and are not concerned about their malady. Each moment is a new normal for them and they are constantly adapting to what is going on with their bodies.

The Internet is full of quality of life (QOL) check off lists and other ways to determine if your pet is ready to be euthanized, but I don’t believe any of them should be used to influence you, nor do I feel it is the veterinarian’s decision. It is your decision and your’s alone. If you are concerned or unsure, please don’t hesitate to call so we can discuss your concerns.

What does pet euthanasia involve?

The actual process involves an intravenous injection of a medication similar to an anesthetic agent that stops brain, respiratory and heart function.  It is almost instantaneous in it’s action and cannot be reversed.

As mentioned on the home page, I administer a sedative prior to the final injection. This quiets the animal and makes them comfortable in a “twilight” sleep. It is important to know that there may be a very small amount of discomfort associated with the sedative injection. Ninety percent don’t notice, but occasionally one will react to it.

Do I have to choose euthanasia vs a natural death?

Euthanasia does not provide a natural passage. It simply hastens it with medication designed for that purpose. A natural death allows the animal to choose its own time and, in some cases, its own place to do so. The process of dying can either be short or prolonged depending upon the underlying cause. Maladies like cancer and heart disease can shorten the time frame (although not always), whereas the aging process can prolong the end for a long time (we are all terminal when born). There is no time frame although many veterinarians will give one. I’m not a fan of setting a date. If you are considering this approach, please contact me so that I can “walk” you through the process. Death can be dramatic visually, but if you know the stages, it won’t catch you by surprise. It’s important to understand that most veterinarians and the vast majority of global pet owners view the natural death of a pet as “inhumane” because they believe this will lead to unnecessary “suffering.” This feeling, I believe, is based on the view that death is “horrible” for the pet when, in fact, it is a natural process. There are built-in protective mechanisms in the brain that allow for a pain-free passage. Call me if you would like to discuss this in more detail. 

Does it matter who is there?

It does not matter if there are other people present. However, I would suggest not having young children present, but you will need to determine if that is appropriate. Other pets can be involved as long as they won’t get in the way or upset the pet prior to the injections. After the sedative takes effect, however, this won’t be a problem. I feel it is a good idea to have some support as there is often significant emotion involved. 

How long does the procedure take?

It can take as long as you like. The sedative takes approximately 15 minutes to take full effect and the final injection only takes a few moments. The entire time can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as you need it to be for your comfort level.

Does it matter if my pet wants to eat?

The important consideration, from my standpoint, is that I want you and your pet to be as normal as possible before and during the initial part of my visit. Food is a wonderful comfort inducer and can be a distraction when I give the sedative injection. So, by all means, feed your pet whatever he/she would like to nibble on.

Is it painful for my pet?

As mentioned previously, I will make every effort to keep pain out of this equation. However, the sedative injection can create slight discomfort, but this lasts a very short time. Once the sedation takes effect (about 15 minutes) the second intravenous injection, which is formulated specifically for the purpose, can be given with your pet being oblivious to its administration. This is a rapid, peaceful, painless process, and the “passing” often occurs before this injection is even finished.

Is there any physical preparation needed?

Try to make the time prior to my arrival as normal as possible for all involved. The anxiety of waiting can sometimes be worse than the reality of my visit, so spend as much time as you can with your pet. I would suggest having some old towels available just in case there is an accident before or after I give the sedative or final injection.

How can I memorialize my pet?

We have a page specifically for this purpose. You are welcome to send a photo and a poem, short story or a few words that we will post on our Memorial Page. The photo and accompanying missive should be appropriate for all viewers, even young children. We reserve the right to edit the content with your permission. There are many other ways you can memorialize your pet. Something as simple as a small area in your home with photos and a favorite toy can be helpful. There are also organizations that will plant a tree in your pet’s name. Some people will plant their own tree and have a small memorial in the yard. Anything, no matter how small, that will comfort you, can be helpful.