While some pets die of old age in the comfort of their own home, many others become seriously ill, get injured in some way or experience a significantly diminished quality of life as they grow very old. In these situations, it may be necessary for you to consider having your pet euthanised in order to spare him/her from pain and suffering.
We understand that your pet is part of your family, and this will probably be one of the hardest decisions you have to make. This is one of the most stressful roles that vets perform and we appreciate the distress this causes for you, the owner.
It is important to talk it over with your veterinary surgeon and your family and friends. Persistent and incurable, inability to eat, vomiting, signs of pain, distress or discomfort, or difficulties in breathing are all indications that euthanasia should be considered. You and your family know your dog better than anyone else, so try to make a reasoned judgement on his or her quality of life. Your vet will help you with this and will often make a recommendation.
When you feel the time is right, your vet or nurse can talk to you about your options and settle any worries you may have about the procedure itself.
Our Farewell Room is available, avoiding the need to wait in the waiting room and allowing you to spend as much time as you wish with your pet.
House visits can be arranged if you wish.
The following is a detailed description of the process. Some of the events described may be distressing, but remember that your dog rapidly loses consciousness and cannot feel pain from that point onwards.
What happens beforehand?
When the decision has been made to put your pet to sleep, you will be asked to sign a consent form. This is a document confirming that you have authorised us to proceed with your pet’s euthanasia.
What actually happens during euthanasia?
Euthanasia is usually carried out by injecting an overdose of anaesthetic into the vein of the front leg, although the injection can be given to other areas of the body as well. The dog is held by a nurse, and a small patch of fur is shaved off. All your dog feels is a tiny prick of the needle – then the injection is painless.
Occasionally, a dog may give a small cry as the injection is given – as with all anaesthetics, there is a brief feeling of dizziness as the drug takes effect. Unconsciousness follows within seconds, often before the injection is finished. Death occurs within a couple of minutes when the heart stops beating. It may take a little longer if the animal is extremely ill or has poor circulation. Sometimes in this instance it may prove difficult for the vet to find a vein.
If a dog is agitated or restless, then the vet may give a sedative first, but finding a vein can then be more difficult and the injection may work more slowly.
In the few minutes after death you may see reflex muscle movement, or involuntary gasps. These are not signs of life, in fact, they are reflexes denoting that death has occurred. The eyes usually stay open and the bladder sometimes empties.
The vast majority of euthanasias proceed smoothly and quickly with little distress to the animal. Even if there are difficulties, it is still a quick procedure that can save your dog many days or weeks of suffering and a painful end.
Should you stay with your dog during euthanasia?
This is entirely your choice. It may be a comfort to you to see that euthanasia is usually a quick and gentle process, but try not to feel guilty if you feel unable to watch – if you are very upset then this may upset your dog. Vets and nurses choose their profession because they want to help animals. You can rely on them to treat your dog sympathetically even in your absence. If you wish, ask to see your dog afterwards. At the end you will probably be offered the opportunity to be alone with your pet for a few minutes.