I am often asked about the euthanasia process. How will I know when it is time? Is sedation used? What will this look like? What about afterward? This is a hard topic to discuss, but as pet owners, the majority of us will face making this difficult decision with our pets. I want to help with understanding this process.
Making the Decision
A pet’s quality of life can be evaluated by their ability to do the things that they enjoy doing. Is your pet able and willing to eat? Is your pet able to go to the bathroom normally? Does your pet still want to interact with you or with the family? One fantastic resource in evaluating quality of life when making the euthanasia decision is the Honoring the Bond program through my alma mater, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. If you suspect your pet’s quality of life is declining, I encourage you to click here to visit this website to help in deciding when is the right time.
If you have any questions about making this decision, do not hesitate to reach out to your primary care veterinarian or to me to help.
The Euthanasia Process
Once the euthanasia decision is made, we will set a time and location for the euthanasia to take place. The best location is one where your pet is most comfortable. Most of the time, this is at home in a favorite bed or chair, with family nearby. Sometimes, this is the beach or a favorite park. The first step is the administration of a sedative cocktail. I administer this under the skin using a very small needle; often, the pets do not notice they are receiving an injection. If the pet does seem to feel it and seems uncomfortable, I stop and administer it in small increments, allowing a small amount of the drug to take effect before administering more. The goal is for this to be a painless and fear free process for the pet. As the drug starts to take effect, the pet feels euphoric and typically hungry. This is a good time to offer lots of love, hugs, and snacks. Often pets that have not eaten in days to weeks will eat treats while this medication is taking effect.
Over about 5 to 10 minutes, this sedative cocktail will reach its full effect and the pet will be sleeping comfortably at an anesthetic plane of sedation. This means that the pet will not feel anything further and will not be aware of their surroundings. This is important for two reasons. First, the next step medically is for me to place an intravenous catheter. I do not want the pet to have to feel this part; with chronic illness especially, this has potential to be a very uncomfortable procedure should the pet be awake for it. With the sedative on board, the pets snooze through the catheter placement feeling no pain. Second, if any of the family members do not want to be present for the final part of the euthanasia, this gives them time to step away. This way, the last thing the pet knew was that they were with their family and the family members can have that peace of mind without having to see the actual euthanasia if they do not want to.
The final part of the process is to place a small potty pad under the pet and then to place a small intravenous catheter. I use a back leg so that any family members that desire to be present can be gathered around the pet’s face and can even hold the pet in their lap. Once the catheter is in place, I give a fast-acting overdose of an anesthetic agent. This allows the sleeping patient to very peacefully and quickly (10 to 20 seconds) cross over the Rainbow Bridge.
When we schedule the euthanasia, I also go ahead and schedule the aftercare. I use the Island Funeral Home and Crematory. I schedule for their caring and professional staff to come to the euthanasia location after the euthanasia has been completed. They will walk through the cremation process with the family and discuss the options available for the pet’s memorial (such as obtaining a paw print or a cutting of fur). From there, they will take the pet’s remains with them for care.
Euthanasia is an incredibly difficult decision for every pet owner, but it can be a true kindness to a pet whose quality of life has diminished. Euthanasia at home is an even greater kindness; the beloved pet can pass peacefully where they are most comfortable with the people who have loved them most.
Tracy Duffner, DVM
Island Holistic Pet Services