As part of your preparation to euthanize your pet, every pet parent should understand how pet euthanasia works. You might have a lot of questions about the process or concerns about the procedure, so it is best to alleviate any concerns and get all your questions answered. Knowing this information will help alleviate feelings of fear or uncertainty.

It is natural to have questions at this stage and there are many common questions pet owners ask. Exactly what is pet euthanasia? Is euthanizing your pet peaceful? Does pet euthanasia hurt? Is pet euthanasia painless? How long does it take to put them to sleep? Can putting your pet down be reversed?

In simple terms, pet euthanasia is when a veterinarian gives an animal medication to help them pass away. The exact process can vary based on each individual vet. Some veterinarian’s explain their exact process to any family members who are present before proceeding. An overview of their process is always nice to have, so you feel more prepared.

Everything everything is outlined and any final questions or concerns are addressed, the next step is when a veterinarian or a veterinary technician gives your pet a subcutaneous injection containing a heavy painkiller mixed with a sedative (anesthesia is included in this shot for cats). This step is unfortunately sometimes not part of the medical procedure at certain animal hospitals. This shot will help your dog or cat relax and get very comfortable. Sometimes they completely fall asleep and can even start snoring.

It typically takes 5-15 minutes for your pet to feel the full effects of the sedation and pain medication. Every pet metabolizes the medication at their own rate based on their age, medical history, current illnesses, and their personality. There are times when more of the medication needs to be administered, so your pet may receive another shot. Giving the appropriate amount of medication at this stage will ensure your pet is calm, comfortable and will not feel any pain.

The next part of the procedure will be based on if your pet is a dog or a cat. Dogs will be given anesthesia as the next step in the procedure, while cats already have received anesthesia when they got their first subcutaneous injection. Depending on the specific veterinary clinic, the anesthesia might be administered through an IV catheter or through a butterfly catheter.

Both catheters provide direct access to a vein in your pet’s leg and are simply based on personal preference for the medical professional. IV catheters are secured in place by a bandage wrapped around their leg. Butterfly catheters are held physically held in place without being bandaged around your pet’s leg.

The area where the catheter will be placed is usually shaved with clippers, so it’s easier to see where the vein is located. The hair clippers are sometimes saved and provided to you as a memorial keepsake. After the area is shaved, it is usually wiped down with hydrogen peroxide. 

Depending on your pet’s current medical state, it could take one attempt to find a leg vein or multiple attempts. If they are dehydrated, have low pressure or have not been active, their leg veins will be significantly smaller and more fragile, which makes it more difficult to access. Sometimes a veterinarian or veterinary technician might switch from one front leg to the other front leg or they might try using a back leg if they cannot find any good veins in either of their front legs. If they are not able to access any of your pet’s leg veins, an abdominal vein can be used.

Finding a leg vein can be a quick and easy task or it can take an extended period of time with multiple attempts. This is why it is always best for pets to receive an initial shot with a pain killer and sedative. If they were given the proper amount of that medication, that will not feel any of the needle pokes and that part of the process would be completely painless.

Once the catheter is placed, the anesthesia is administered. It is a white solution and typically takes less than a minute to take full effect. If your dog has already been given a sedative, the only visible change that you might notice is a change in their breathing rate, which usually becomes slower and more shallow.

The final step in the euthanasia process is when the veterinarian uses the IV catheter to administer an overdose of anesthesia. It is a pink solution and the dosage depends on the animal’s weight. This final injection of medication first effects the brain before stopping the heart and lungs. Depending on fast the medication is metabolized, which depends on the condition of each specific pet, it can take anywhere from a couple of seconds to a few minutes for the heart to stop beating and breathing to cease. There are times when additional medication is needed to stop the heart or breathing.

After passing, your pet may have agonal breaths, which can look like very rapid breathing or a very deep breath. If your pet has agonal breathing, it is important to know that their heart has already stopped and they are no longer with us. The agonal breathing is caused by the diaphragm contracting and the lungs releasing air. Some pets have agonal breaths, while other pets have no agonal breaths. There is no way to predict whether they will have them, because each pet passes differently – just like people.

None of the injections cause any pain or discomfort and the entire process is very peaceful. The last injection containing an overdose of anesthesia cannot be reversed, so pet euthanasia is final. And again, your pet will not feel any pain. Pet euthanasia is the most peaceful way for them to pass, including a natural death which often times is painful to them and causes stress and discomfort during their final moments.

One last important thing to note is that if your pet goes through the full euthanasia process explained above it will ensure they pass in the most peaceful way possible. Some pet parents request a “quick” euthanasia, however quick does not mean it will be better or more peaceful. In fact, the opposite would be true, where if the process were “quick,” it would be less peaceful for them. For example, giving your pet an initial shot with a pain killer and sedative will ensure they don’t feel the poke of the needle during the catheter placement and they don’t feel anxious during the rest of the procedure.

In closing, pet euthanasia does not hurt, it is painless and it is very peaceful. Knowing these facts should help reassure you that there is nothing to worry about and no reason to fear the actual procedure.

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