Now that you’ve made the hard -- but humane -- choice to put your aging or ill pet to sleep, you may have questions. Will it hurt? Can I be with my pet during the process? Can it be done in my home?
Knowing the facts can help you and your family feel more at peace with what's going to happen.
It can be done at home or at your veterinarian's office. Not all vets will do this at your home so it’s important to check first. You may want to search for one that offers this service.
Make a time for your entire family to say goodbye. If you have children, explain what's happening in advance to help them prepare for the loss of their friend. The American Humane Association recommends books such as Fred Rogers’ When a Pet Dies as a way to provide comfort and understanding for children.
If you choose a vet’s office, bring your pet’s bed with you -- or a comfy blanket or pillow -- where she can rest.
You may want to sit with your friend so you can pet and comfort her while the vet gives her the medicine.
Many vets give the pet a shot of sedative before the euthanasia drug. The vet will explain to you what he's doing and where he's giving the shot. Some vets only use a sedative if the pet is frightened or can't relax. The shot may cause pain and the drug can have side effects, so talk to your vet about whether your pet should get it. If she's very sick and already quiet or has trouble breathing she may not need it.
The euthanasia medication most vets use is pentobarbital, a seizure medication. In large doses, it quickly renders the pet unconscious. It shuts down her heart and brain functions usually within one or two minutes. It could be given by shot or by an IV in one of her legs.
When your pet passes, her eyes may not fully close. She may urinate or defecate. You may see her twitch or take a final breath. This can be startling, but it's a normal part of the process. Your pet isn't in pain. Use of a sedative makes this step less likely.
At Home or at the Vet's?
In-home euthanasia can be easier if your dog has trouble moving or gets panicky at the vet's office.
Plus, if there are other animals at your house, they can see that their friend has passed. This is important for dogs -- as pack animals, they may get confused if they see another dog leave the house and not come back. Dogs often cry and search for a deceased animal after it's gone.
On the other hand, you may not want to associate your home with a beloved pet's death. It can be upsetting to children to see it happen, too. Or you may not want to be there when your pet passes.
If you want to bury your pet at home, be sure to check local, county, or state ordinances to make sure this is legal. You may also consider a pet cemetery.
The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories has a directory of pet cemeteries on its website.
Many people choose to have their pet cremated. Your city may have a company that will pick up your friend's remains from the vet's office or from your home. They'll cremate the pet and let you have time for a memorial service before if you want. Your vet may have a service he uses. If not, contact your local or state government for guidance and regulations.
Putting your pet to sleep is the final step of a lifetime of care. You're making sure your friend is treated with compassion and dignity in his final moments.