Letting Go: Making the Decision to Euthanize Your Pet

If you’ve ever known the loyal companionship of a special pet, you know how natural it is to think of your furry friend in human terms. You take Fido with you wherever you go, give him treats, and love him like the family member he is. But of course, animals aren’t human, and pets rely on their humans to provide the food and shelter and keep them safe from harm.

The rewards of that kind of commitment are many, as any animal lover will agree. But like any commitment, owning a pet isn’t always easy. When the time comes, deciding to euthanize is perhaps the hardest part of the commitment every pet owner makes when he invites an animal into his life.

Recognizing When It’s Time to Consider Pet Euthanasia

The most obvious reason for euthanizing a pet is extreme illness or severe injury. Putting an animal “out of its misery” is universally regarded as a humane thing to do, but although the need may be clear, the decision still isn’t easy.

Issues other than pain can also factor into your decision, making your job even harder. For example, even if your pet’s advancing age and declining health are not causing obvious pain, your pet may need more care and attention than you and your family can provide or afford, and finding a family to adopt a pet with special needs can be next to impossible.

Then there is the matter of injury or illness that doesn’t cause insufferable pain for your pet, but may be affecting the quality of his life in other ways. Although animals communicate with their humans in any number of ways, they can’t talk and they can’t think in the way humans can. Ultimately, the decision is yours.

In addition to watching for signs of pain, you might ask yourself:

  • Is my pet enjoying life at all, or simply enduring her existence?
  • Does my pet enjoy more good days than bad, or are most days miserable for him?
  • Is my pet refusing food and water?
  • What does the vet think?

What to Expect

Begin by making an appointment to talk with your vet, even if your pet is still relatively healthy and you aren’t facing an immediate decision. Arming yourself with good information before you need it can make things a little easier when the time comes. Following are some discussion points for your visit with the vet.

  • Under what circumstances does your vet recommend considering euthanasia? What criteria does the vet recommend you use in making your decision?
  • What methods or medications does your vet use to euthanize a pet?
  • Do you want to be at your pet’s side during euthanasia?
  • Would you prefer to have your pet euthanized at home, and will your vet accommodate your request (or recommend another vet who will)?
  • What will you do with your pet’s remains (burial or cremation)?

If making the decision to euthanize is hard, living with that decision can be even harder. Having the decisions made and your wishes recorded will help to give you peace of mind, but no matter what logic tells you about your pet and your circumstances – even if you’re thoroughly convinced you’re doing “the right thing” – you may find yourself struggling with feelings of sorrow, fear, and guilt, both before and after your pet is euthanized. Keep in mind that these feelings are normal, and that you do not have to face them alone.

What Happens In Pet Euthanasia

Knowing what to expect when your pet is euthanized can help you decide whether you want to be present and whether you want the euthanasia to take place in your home.

Most vets prefer to administer euthanasia in a quiet room. If your pet appears anxious or in pain, a mild sedative may be given before an IV tube is inserted into your pet’s vein to allow speedy delivery of the euthanizing solution. The drugs commonly used to euthanize animals are the same as those used in general anesthesia but administered in much higher doses than would be used for surgery. Just like in surgery, though, your pet will go to sleep and feel no pain.

Then, within minutes, the higher dosage of medication will cause your pet’s heart and breathing to stop. In most cases, death comes quietly and without struggle, and the only way you’ll know when your pet has expired is when the vet can no longer detect a heartbeat. Most pet owners who observe euthanasia are relieved to find that the process is truly quick and painless for the animal.

After Euthanasia

Grieving is a normal part of any loss, including the loss of a beloved pet. Depending on how you choose to dispose of your pet’s remains, you can choose a fitting memorial to signify the place your pet will always have in your heart. If your pet is cremated, you can choose a cremation urn or cremation jewelry to keep the cremated remains, or if you decide to bury your pet, you can place a pet memorial stone at the burial site or in your garden. Memorializing your pet is an important part of the grieving process.

Share Your Experience

If you’ve faced the sad duty of euthanizing a pet, how did you reach your decision? How did you find the strength and comfort you needed to see it through, and where did you draw support afterword? Please share your experience to help others.

Discuss: Letting Go: Making the Decision to Euthanize Your Pet

2 People Discussing
  • I made the final decision for my friend just yesterday. I have been watching her very carefully (more than my normal fussing about her :)). I could tell she was not happy. She was a miniature dachshund with an exuberant personality. Her name was Mini-me (yeah, I did not pick the name, I saved her from someone who did not want to take care of her.)
    I am so glad that she was with me for so many wonderful years. We liked to go on walks together, and it was delightful to talk to other people about her. People would stop their cars (in our suburban neighborhood) to ask me about her, or tell me about the mini dachshund they knew at one time. I have a major depressive disorder and my strolls with Mini-me gave me hope. Dog lovers are the best people!
    Mini-me stopped wanting to go for walks. She would do her business and head right back to the stairs to enter our apartment. She did not want to play. She laid in her bed nearly all day, and I had to practically force her to go out. This lovely dog who used to run to the door, barely holding herself still while I hooked up her leash. Mini-me stopped barking at people knocking at the door. If you know dachshunds, you know they consider it their job to warn others with her deep chested bark.
    Minime has had a benign tumor for over two years. The doctor said given her age then, she would probably die during surgery. We have been keeping her comfortable as we can, but the last two months have been hard for her.
    When we took her to the vet, he was very very kind about her. He said the tumor he could see was benign, but he could feel other mammary tumors. She was very sick. He said that we could spend a few thousand dollars with an unknown outcome, and maybe more suffering or we could let her go. I told him we (my daughter and I) had come to the decision that it was time for her pain to end. She was not the same dog.
    Dr. Hutchinson said he thought it was the best decision. (That made my heart feel so much better) He has known her for over seven years. He said she was a happy and contented dog who was very very ill.
    The procedure was exactly as described in this article. I did not want to watch her and wait for her to stop breathing. The doctor said she might lose her bowels and sometimes the diaphragm will move like
    they are breathing, but it is a reflex. That is why I did not want to see it. I remember my dog with love and dignity. I was there to say a loving good-bye, and my daughter was there to support me.

    Good bye my loving friend, Mini-me. I am a better person and I have hope from knowing and loving you.
    Thank you forever.

    Comment by Beth — September 16, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

  • I agree. That’s why I need a special urn…

    Comment by jeannie — January 6, 2016 @ 8:49 pm

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