by T. J. Dunn, Jr. DVM
Should I put my
pet to sleep?
It is a tough call and everyone has an individual way of
handling this crisis. Ask the animal, too. This may sound silly but
each individual should spend time alone with their pet in a quiet and
private location. Hold and comfort your pet and talk it over... just
the two of you. Then, if you listen to your heart, the answers can
become very clear.
We always fear losing our pets that mean so much to us.
Nevertheless, that time inevitably does come. How you will act at your
pet's final moments is a completely personal experience. Your pet has
been a huge part of your life for a long time and this is not an easy
thing for you to do. Most people really have no rules to follow, have
no firm ground on which to stand while partaking in their pet's final
time. For those of you who have had no experience with euthanasia of a
pet, here are a few guidelines when "that time" does come.
Be sure to tell the receptionist that you would like to schedule the
appointment at a time when the veterinarian is not in a hurry with
other appointments or surgery. You might even request that your
appointment be the last one of the day or the first one in the morning.
Explain that you have never had to go through this experience before
and would like to know what to expect regarding the euthanasia
procedure. You have a right to take your deceased pet home for personal
burial. You may also choose to leave your deceased pet with the
veterinarian for burial or cremation. Always ask what will be done with
your deceased pet after it is "put to sleep"! If you don't, you will
always wonder, and your imagination will not be kind to you. You have a
right to know what will be done with your dog or cat if you choose to
leave it with the veterinarian. Do not be apologetic about
Appointment... To Be There or Not To Be There
It is your personal choice whether or not to be present in the exam or
surgery room when the veterinarian administers the euthanasia solution.
Many people simply cannot bear to see the moment of their special
friend's passing. Others wouldn't let a tidal wave interfere with their
being present! It really is up to your personal preference. Some people
choose to stay in the waiting room during the procedure and then
briefly view their pet after it has passed away, maybe then spending a
few moments in private with their pet.
If you are not sure just what to do I will offer an
observation I have made from feedback from my clients. There are a
multitude of pet owners who have regretted NOT being there with their
pet when the pet was being euthanized, and their feelings that they may
have abandoned their pet at a crucial time has created a certain sense
of guilt that simply will not go away. So... think over very carefully
how you will feel long after your pet has been "put to sleep". Will you
have regrets if you do not stay with your pet? You really have no need
to pretend that you can handle it when inside you feel terrible...it is
perfectly normal and acceptable to cry.
You might choose to leave your pet in the car and go in first
to see if there will be any delays prior to your scheduled time. It is
perfectly reasonable to ask the receptionist to let you know when the
doctor is ready to see your pet... then bring your pet directly into
the exam room. You should not have to be isolated in the exam room for
a long period of time, either.
If you think your pet would be more comfortable and less
apprehensive (not all pets relish coming to the animal hospital!) you
may ask the veterinarian to provide your pet with some sedation prior
to your visit. This can be administered at home at a directed time
interval prior to the appointment or often sedation is given in the
animal hospital via a painless injection under the pet's skin. After a
short time the pet is relaxed and calm.
The Last Moments
When the veterinarian is ready to administer the euthanasia solution
the assistant will help hold your pet and put a slight amount of
pressure on a vein, usually in the foreleg. This allows the
veterinarian to see the vein better and aids in passing a fine needle
into the vein. When it is certain that the needle is within the vein
the veterinarian slowly injects the solution. Many pet owners choose to
help hold their pet and if possible even have the pet in their arms at
the time of euthanasia. Your veterinarian will try to accommodate your
wishes, but remember that it is imperative that the solution be
injected within the vein for the procedure to unfold properly.
Usually within six to twelve seconds after the solution is
injected the pet will take a slightly deeper breath, then grow weak and
finally lapse into what looks like a deep sleep. (This state gives rise
to the questionable euphemism "to put to sleep".) The pet, although
completely unconscious, may continue to take a few more breaths before
all movement ceases.
If the client chooses to take the pet home, by
pre-arrangement a container is at the ready to receive the pet. The
veterinarian usually will place the pet into the container and carry
the deceased pet out to the car for the owner. If the pet owner chooses
to have the pet cremated the veterinarian generally will make the
arrangements through a cremation service and notify you when you can
expect to have the ashes returned. Generally, pet owners are surprised
at the small quantity of ashes that are returned. Remember, most living
creatures are about 95% water.
It is perfectly reasonable to ask "How do I know that the
ashes that I receive will actually be those of my pet?" Everyone
wonders about that. To make the last moments with your pet as
unstressful as possible call the cremation service with your questions
long before that final day.
It is not unusual nor unreasonable for pet owners to save a
bit of their pet's fur as a physical remembrance of their special
friend. Some people want their pet to be buried or cremated with a few
photos, or a rose or even a personal letter or poem from the pet owner
to their pet. Just remember it is YOUR friend, YOUR pet, that is
passing away and you can do anything you wish to ease your transition
into the time of separation from that friend.
Suggestion: You may want someone to be with you after the
appointment to drive you home. You may be surprised how difficult it
can be to concentrate on driving after experiencing such an emotional
Many, many pet owners experience a very strong and lasting sense of
pain and grief after the passing of a special pet. This can be a very
lonely and private grief since the pet owner often is reluctant to
disclose the source of their saddened state for fear of ridicule. If
someone hasn't personally experienced the loss of a loved pet they
simply will be unable to connect with the pet owner who is grief
The bereaved pet owner often is self-critical, too. Reading
their thoughts we would recognize self chastisement such as "Oh, this
is ridiculous feeling like this over a Cocker Spaniel" or "I can't
believe losing a cat would wreck my entire life!" And the loss of a pet
often brings up memories of other losses in a person's life and a
vicious cycle of sadness, helplessness and even clinical depression can
result. Our pets are THAT important to us and we don't have to
apologize for feeling that way!