Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Making a dog comfortable before a euthanasia appointment is the last gift of love dog owners can provide to their beloved canine companion.
This is a time where you certainly don't want to stress your dog with abrupt changes in the environment and interferences to his daily routines.
This is also not a time to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Dogs have a keen perception of their surroundings and our emotions, and the last thing we want to do in their final days is to create havoc in their lives.
This is where preparedness goes a long way. Knowledge is power. It's important to therefore know what steps you can take to provide comfort during your dog's last days and hours before death.
Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec, a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia, shares several tips on how to make a dog comfortable before the euthanasia appointment.
Dog Euthanasia, The "Good Death"
The term euthanasia is derived from the Greek words “eu” which means good and “thanatos,” which means death, and therefore, literally translates to "a good death." Euthanasia is performed with one goal: to end a suffering individual's life.
Generally speaking, there are two forms of euthanasia: passive and active.
- Passive euthanasia is practiced in human medicine, and it involves the lack of intervention necessary to prevent death.
- Active euthanasia is frequently practiced in veterinary medicine, and it consists of giving a substance that causes death.
When Is Euthanasia Considered in Dogs?
Active euthanasia is a uniquely veterinary approach considered in the following cases:
- An irreversible disease whose progress causes unmanageable pain and distress
- Overwhelming physical injury
- Expressed age-related changes that significantly decrease the quality of life
- Injuries and illnesses that cause permanent loss of body function controls
- Carrying untreatable disease that can be transmitted to other dogs and humans
- Behavioral issues, mainly aggressiveness that cannot be controlled.
- Incorrigible aggressiveness with risk to children, owners, or other
- Carrying untreatable diseases dangerous to humans
How to Make a Dog Comfortable Before Euthanasia
It is hard to even imagine the words comfortable and euthanasia in the same sentence. However, driven by the concept that euthanasia is the final act of love, we must come up with ways of making the whole process more comfortable for both the dog and the dog parent.
Decide When It Is Time
This decision must always be made in accordance with your trusted vet. You and your vet together should go over a dog's quality of life checklist. If quality of life is in any way compromised, it may be time to consider letting your dog go.
Before actually having your dog euthanized, it is advisable to spend some quality time together doing something you, your family and your dog enjoy doing together.
Some bucket-list activities may include visiting a favorite place, engaging in a much-loved activity or simply spending more time cuddling on the sofa.
Take Every Day as a Gift
Knowing that it is the last time you are doing those activities with your dog is likely to put too much pressure on you and make you feel depressed. Dogs sense our emotional states and often reflect on them. Basically, when we feel bad our dogs feel bad too.
To avoid stressing your dog, it is advisable not to make decisions too much in advance. For example, it is not recommended to go to the vets and schedule the euthanasia one month in advance.
Instead, spend as much quality time as possible with your dog and schedule the procedure several days beforehand. Acknowledging several signs a dog's health is declining can help make the decision.
Choose the Place
In the past, the decision to euthanize or not was controversial. Today, what is controversial is the place of euthanasia. While some dog parents prefer having their dogs euthanized at home, others opt for spending the last few hours in a veterinary facility. Honestly, both options have their pros and cons.
In the past, euthanasia was performed strictly in vet facilities. Over time, to avoid the discomfort of visiting the vet in the dog’s last hours of life, many dog parents reverted to having their dog put to sleep at home, sadly, by themselves.
We cannot emphasize how irresponsible this was. Dog owners would usually use large amounts of sleeping pills, which is not only inefficient but may also prolong or worsen the dog’s suffering.
To avoid such issues, today, most vets offer a new service: Performing euthanasia at the comfort of your home. However, as mentioned, both options can be tricky.
Euthanasia procedures performed at home are a better alternative for dogs associating vet visits with stress and anxiety and for dogs that are too big or hard to move.
Plus, most dog parents can handle the situation better at home, surrounded by family members. Not to mention that the dog will be more relaxed at home in the presence of its human family, and belongings (toys, bed).
On the flip side, having the vet come to your house adds to the procedure’s price tag. Additionally, experts recommend having the euthanasia procedure performed in a neutral location (in this case the vet’s office) to avoid associating your home with painful memories.
Not all veterinarians offer the ability to euthanize dogs at home. On top of this, having your dog put the sleep at the vet's office offers an extra blanket of protection. Ultimately, if anything goes wrong, the vet will find it easier to deal with the complications in a hospital environment, versus a home one.
Keep in mind that you can make your dog feel comfortable even in the vet’s office by bringing some of his/her favorite toys and talking to him/her in a calming manner while constantly petting.
Get Acquainted With the Procedure
Knowing what happens during a dog's euthanasia appointment is important. Being prepared can put you at an advantage. You can pre-pay the fees and fill the paperwork in advance and make arrangements on what to do after your dog passes (burial? cremation?)
It can also prepare you for what to expect during the procedure itself. "In my experience, clients who know what to expect are not disturbed when their pets have a reflex or other odd reaction when passing," explains veterinarian Sarah J. Wooten.
Inquire About Sedation
To make things as painless and comfortable as possible, before administering the euthanasia-causing drug, the dog should be sedated (just like it would be prior to a surgical procedure).
Once the dog loses consciousness, the euthanasia-causing drug is then administered. In most cases, the dog’s heart stops within seconds.
Ask for IV Cannula
To make sure things go smoothly and as complication-free as possible, the vet will insert an intravenous cannula and administer all necessary drugs via the cannula directly into the dog’s veins.
Deciding to have a beloved dog euthanized is the most challenging aspect of the dog parenting experience. Yet, in the well-developed countries in Europe and North America, active euthanasia is the number one cause of death in dogs older than two years of age. This implies that when faced with such a morally tricky decision, dog parents can make reasonable decisions.
However, the trusted vet plays an important role—first by educating the owners that they are making the right decision, then going through the procedure so that dog parents can easily understand and ultimately make the actual euthanasia process as simple and as comfortable as possible.
In the end, it is worth mentioning that grieving dog parents go through various stages of grief when losing a dog and frequently inform vets that they will never parent a dog again.
On the bright side, statistics show differently—over 75 percent of all previous dog owners bring a new dog to their homes within the next few months.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 19, 2021:
Your article will help many people when it comes to having to euthanize our beloved pets. It is rarely an easy decision.
Sp Greaney from Ireland on March 19, 2021:
This is such a sad and sensitive topic that we will all have to deal with at some point.
I think for the last few days of their life you should totally give them the best care ever like you say. It's hard for all parties involved in coming to this decision.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 16, 2021:
This is a very good article about a heartbreaking topic. It is always tough to loose a dog you love.. I think your suggestions are excellent, Adrienne
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 16, 2021:
This is one of the heart wrenching events a pet parent can ever go through. For us, most of these events have been positive in a vet's office. Some we didn't have a choice as to location since the dog was already in ER care.
Thankfully, it's been years since we've had to face this decision. Now that there are more at-home and less stressful options, I'm definitely considering the at-home option when that time comes again.
I know this is a tough subject to address. But it should be. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughtful tips!