What Happens During a Pet's Euthanasia Appointment
Answers for Your Concerns
If your dog or cat has arrived at a point where nothing more can be done medically, your vet may suggest you schedule a euthanasia appointment. As sad as this may be, you may also have questions about what happens exactly and what to expect. As a loving and caring owner, you want to know what will happen that day so you can better deal with it all when that day arrives.
Having worked at an animal hospital, I have seen my fair share of euthanasia procedures. If this is the first time you will have a pet euthanized, you may have questions that perhaps you do not feel comfortable asking your veterinarian. I can help to clarify what happens and how.
What Happens During the Euthenasia
- First of all, scheduling a euthanasia is a bit different than from making a normal appointment. At most vet hospitals, special time slots are reserved for euthanasias. These are usually the very first appointments of the day or the last in the evening.
- You will be asked if you want to be there during the procedure. If not, you can drop off your pet at any time during the day. The vet will euthanize the pet when he has a free moment or at the end of the day.
- If you decide to stay, then you will be given one of those specially reserved slots mentioned above. At these times, there are no other clients or pets scheduled as a form of respect.
- This is done both for the owner's, pet's, and veterinarian's benefit. Your pet will not be disturbed by other pets. This is very important as very sick animals are very vulnerable from strong emotions and stress. Your pet will get the quiet ambiance it deserves. The veterinarian will not be rushed or under any pressure. There are no other clients waiting or emergency appointments coming. You will be allowed to take your time in saying goodbye to your pet.
Choosing Disposal Options
Once the appointment time has been set, the receptionist will ask you if you want your pet cremated or if you will have it buried.
- If you want your pet buried, you may do so yourself, however, make sure to ask your local municipality if you are allowed to bury your pet in your yard. Special restrictions may apply.
- If you choose to have your pet cremated, you may choose between a private or a communal cremation. Private cremations take place when your pet is cremated on its own and the ashes are returned to you in an urn. In communal cremation, the pet is cremated with other pets and usually the ashes are spread in a pet cemetery. In this case, the ashes are not returned.
- Usually, a private cremation costs more. Both euthanasia and cremation services have higher charges the more your pet weighs. Ask about prices if finances are a concern.
Some owners may have doubts about what happens to their pet's body if they choose a communal cremation. They may fear the body may be given to a research lab and experimented on. This is a myth. I can say from experience that all the pets that were slated for communal cremation were sent to be cremated along with others. The cremation service used to come every Tuesday to pick up the bodies. I had to sign a report to confirm that he came to pick each one up.
After deciding how the body is disposed, you may be asked if your pet has bitten or scratched anybody in the past ten days. As horrible as this question may sound under the circumstances, it is required by rabies laws. If your pet did indeed scratch or bite someone, it must undergo a rabies test.
Once the appointment is made, it is important to make arrangements to have someone accompany you and drive, if possible. You may not expect it, but owners are often overwhelmed by emotions as they drive themselves to and back from the hospital. This can be dangerous and may be the perfect ingredient for an accident. Please give this option consideration. I have seen the most composed owners break down in tears and call somebody to pick them up because they were unable to drive.
Dog Euthanasia Explained by a Veterinarian
The Appointment Day
Forms to fill out.
When the day arrives, you will be taken into a room and given forms to sign to authorize the procedure and attest that you are the legal owner. Other forms will ask you to confirm the form of disposal you have selected. Please be aware that if you selected communal cremation, you will not get the ashes back. Finally, you will sign a form stating your pet has not bitten or scratched in the past ten days.
Bills to pay.
Payment is usually done up front; however, some owners may be too emotional and in those cases, some hospitals will send the bill.
Final goodbyes. Most hospitals will allow owners to spend time with their friend alone before the vet comes in. A blanket may be placed on the floor (for large animals) or on the examination table for the pet's comfort.
Will your pet feel pain? Once the veterinarian arrives, he may ask if you want your pet to be given sedatives, especially if your pet seems to be particularly anxious or in pain. Such sedatives may take about 15 minutes to take effect. An area in the pet's front forearm will be shaved to allow either a catheter or a needle to directly inject the solution.
How Do They Put a Pet Down?
The euthanasia solution is a very bright color so veterinarians will never mistake it with any other injectable solution. The most common solution consists of pentobarbital, a liquid barbiturate commonly used during surgery. This will be, however, an overdose amount, allowing the dog or cat to drift into an anesthesia-like sleep that will ultimately halt the breathing and cause cardiac arrest. Because this solution has an anesthetic effect, the pet will be unconscious and pain-free. The barbiturate will depresse the central nervous system, causing the pet to sleep (thus the terminology "put to sleep.")
This solution is injected into a vein. The only pain the pet will feel is indeed the needle. The solution acts pretty quickly: Most pets will take a deep breath and become unconscious within ten seconds, just as a person falls to sleep counting backwards during surgery. The vet will then use a stethoscope to verify the absence of a heartbeat, confirming therefore that the pet has passed to a "better life."
In some cases, the pet may have some involuntary muscle twitches or may urinate or defecate. These are just automatic nerve reflexes. The eyes will likely stay open, just as when anesthetized. These are very important aspects to consider as they may be disconcerting to the owner; for this reason, pet owners should be warned beforehand.
You will then be left alone with your pet if you wish. If your pet will be buried, the staff may put it in a large black bag for you. If you opted for cremation, once you leave, the pet's body will be wrapped in a black bag and stored in a big freezer until the cremation services arrive.
It usually takes an average of a week to ten days then for the ashes to return. Most hospitals will call once the remains arrive. Urns will vary in size depending on how large your pet was.
The euthanasia procedure is never an easy procedure. Even as a staff member, I often found myself in tears as I said goodbye to pets that had been longtime patients. I hope that this article has answered your questions and prepared you for what to expect. I offer my deepest sympathies, hoping that one day, we may all reunite with our furry friends over the "rainbow bridge."
For further reading
- Picking up Your Dog's Ashes Is a Difficult Time
Your vet's office will call you when it's time to pick up the "cremains," but picking up your deceased dog's ashes is quite a difficult time that many dog owners struggle with.
- How to Determine a Dog's Quality of Life
Owners who are questioning when a dog should be put down will often hear veterinarians discuss quality of life. Learn more about what this means.
- Pet Gems
An alternative to cremation and burial of pets.
- When to Put a Dog to Sleep
Advice from someone who worked in a veterinarian hospital.
What Happens When Pets Die
The Rainbow Bridge Poem (Author Unknown)
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water, and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....