What to expect when you put down your pet

sick dog

This is how I answer some commonly asked questions about euthanasia.

What medications do you use to euthanize an animal?

Most veterinarians use a medication called pentobarbital. Pentobarbital is an anesthetic drug that can stop the heart and lungs when a patient is given an overdose. Because it is an anesthetic drug, it puts the brain to sleep before the patient dies, making it a very humane drug to use for euthanasia. Many people will ask me if they can “feel it” when they die. We can tell that the patient will notice a sensation from the medication, because sometimes the patient will lick their lips or move their head in a way that tells us they feel different. However, because of the drug’s anesthetic effects, this sensation is not painful.

In addition to pentobarbital, sometimes the patient is given different sedatives before the procedure. This is especially helpful if the patient is restless or an IV catheter isn’t in place.

What happens to my pet’s body after I leave the vet clinic?

The body is wrapped and placed in a freezer until a cremation service comes to collect it. For bodies that are individually cremated, the cremation service will put just one in the cremation chamber at a time. After the body has been turned to ash, the ashes are packaged in a plastic bag and then put in a box. If a special urn has been ordered, the cremains will be placed in that urn.

For bodies in which the ashes won’t be returned to the owner, several pets are placed in the cremation chamber at once and the ashes are returned to the earth. Crematoriums have a site in which they can bury the ashes of pets whose ashes aren’t going back to the owner. At Westgate Pet Clinic, we use the cremation service through the Veterinary Hospital Association.

Some families want to witness the cremation of their pet, or want their pet to be cremated immediately after euthanasia. There are several private crematoriums around the metro area that offer those services. Most of the private crematoriums can arrange for picking up your pet’s body from the veterinary clinic, or you can bring the body to the facility yourself if that is preferred.

Pets can also be put into a cardboard coffin if the owner wants to take the body home for burial. Local ordinance dictates whether this is allowed in your area.

I feel like I am killing my pet and “playing God.” Why do I have the right to make this decision? 

This is a feeling that many pet owners struggle with. Many people would like their pet to die on their own so the decision is made for them. It is common to feel this way. What I tell my clients, and what I believe, is that it is our job to take care of our animals. We make decisions for our pets their whole life based on what we think is in their best interest. Early on we decide to spay or neuter our pets, and when they get sick, we decide what treatment option is the best choice. Our pets are not capable of consulting with us in these decisions. As pet owners, we have the responsibility to make decisions on their behalf, and at the end of their life, we have the responsibility to decide if euthanasia is the best option.

I decided to euthanize my pet before our family vacation and I feel so guilty about it. 

Many times a vacation or trip will expedite a euthanasia. The guilt comes from the fact that the pet owner feels like they are euthanizing their pet for their own convenience. The truth is much more nuanced than that. Most pets that are euthanized before a trip are very ill and taking multiple medications, or have fecal or urinary incontinence or mobility issues that make it challenging for someone else to care for them. We worry that someone else may not do as good of a job taking care of them, or the pet will be scared that they aren’t in their own home, or that the pet will die when we are gone. We also feel bad asking someone else to do so much work, or it may be very expensive to pay someone to take on a pet with a lot of medical needs. The decision to euthanize before a vacation is usually made because the owner backs into the decision after considering all of the what-ifs and complications with transferring a sick pet’s care to someone else. You can make the decision to euthanize a pet before a vacation and still love that pet with all of your heart.

Did I do the right thing? 

At our clinic, we only euthanize pets that have medical or behavioral issues that warrant euthanasia. So if it comes to the point that the pet owner and veterinarian have agreed that it is time to euthanize a pet, from a practical standpoint, the right thing was done. People don’t usually ask me this question because they really think they made the wrong choice euthanizing their animal, they ask me this question because they want reassurance that they are a good person and they were good caretakers for their animals. After spending a lifetime keeping an animal healthy, it just seems backwards to then make the choice to end a pet’s life. Our brains have a hard time handling that juxtaposition. When I client asks me, “Did I do the right thing?” I always say, “Yes,” and give out a hug.