What is Dog Euthanasia?
The terms dog euthanasia, “putting your dog to sleep” or “putting your dog down” are all terms synonymous with the deliberate act of peacefully ending a dog’s life. This is usually done to relieve pain and suffering when the remaining quality of life is poor, the health prognosis is hopeless or for intractable behavioural problems.
The word euthanasia in Greek literally means “good death”.
When performed for the right reasons, to relieve pain and suffering that isn’t likely to be alleviated, dog euthanasia is an ethical decision. It is not an easy decision for the pet owner, but it is often the right decision for the dog.
Far better to pass peacefully in their sleep than to prolong suffering that is pointless, incurable and often cruel.
Properly performed dog euthanasia, by an experienced veterinarian, is the most humane way for a dog to pass.
In so doing we minimise the pain, fear and distress of the dog, and their family, at this most difficult of times.
Dog Euthanasia Vs Natural Death
Making the decision to have a dog euthanised can often leave pet owners with feelings of anxiety, stress and even guilt. This causes many to postpone the decision in the hope that their dog will pass naturally on their own.
However passing of a natural death is sometimes not all it’s made out to be. While it allows pet owners to abdicate the difficult responsibility of picking a day and time, dogs who pass naturally are often only doing so after absolute failure of all of their own body’s intricate protective mechansims designed to maintain life.
This often leads to a severely poor quality of life leading up to that final moment, potentially including things such as severe pain, disorientation or shortness of breath. Consider a pet with end stage congestive heart failure, left to pass naturally, they are essentially dying by drowning in their own bodily fluids. Not a pleasant way to pass.
In addition, dog’s who pass naturally often do so at night or while their owners are at work, a lonely passing that may cause them additional stress and anxiety.
Contrastingly, when a dog is peacefully euthanised it is often done at a time before the symptoms get too severe to negativley impact on quality of life. Dogs can pass in their owner’s arms, drifting off into a peaceful, pain free sleep, while they are cuddled, kissed and told that they are loved.
In our experience, few of our clients have regretted making the end of life decision for their pet too early, but many have regretted leaving it too late.
Who will euthanize my dog?
In Australia, dog euthanasia is performed by licensed veterinarians, either at a vet hospital or as we recommend, at your home with a mobile vet service.
Can you euthanize your dog at home?
One of the most peaceful dog euthanasia options is to have a mobile vet service come to your home. In the comfort of your own home, dogs are relaxed and as peaceful as possible. Farewelling a dog at a vet hospital can sometimes feel cold and clinical by comparison.
Dog euthanasia at home offers pets the option to be on their own comfy bed, surrounded by family and friends that they know and love. In this setting there is no stress. They can be given treats as the initial sedative injection is given, making the process as pleasant as possible for them.
The other advantage of putting a dog to sleep at home is that there is no car trip to the vet as well as having to load them into the car afterwards if you are bringing them back home. Pet’s at this stage of life are often arthritic, sore or uncomfortable and the last thing you’d want to do is to disturb them by making them get into the car. This is especially true for large breed dogs.
Plus, being at home generally allows a longer time period, if needed, to say goodbye. A dog euthanasia at home is not rushed as some visits to the vet office can be. There is also no other unfamiliar pets around who may distress your dog.
How Dog Euthanasia Works
Dog euthanasia is essentially the administration of an overdose of anaesthetic. Many euthanaisa vets will give a sedative underneath the skin or in the muscle prior to this final injection to help your pet relax and fall into a deep sleep first.
The euthanasia medication firstly causes depression of the central nervous system, causing your pet to lapse into unconsciousness. Following this they progress into a deep state of anaesthesia, a bit like when they are having surgery. The overdose of anaesthetic then follows causing the breathing and heart to stop.
Many vets will give a sedative beforehand which causes your pet to fall into a deep but conscious sleep. When the dog euthanasia solution is then given, the pet stays asleep and lapses further into full anaesthetia. The sedative can therefore make the process smoother and a little less confronting for pet owners.
The dog euthanasia drug usually only takes 30 seconds on average to work.
If a pre-euthanasia sedative is given, the sedative portion takes around 2-10 minutes if given underneath the skin.
Vets most often use a injectable barbiturate medication call pentobarbitone.
It is often green in colour, leading to it commonly be referred to as the “green dream”.
Barbiturate medication is also often used in pets for seizure control and anaesthesia. In the form used for euthanasia, it is a overly concentrated form of these, essentially causing an overdose in pets.
The euthanasia drug for dogs is preferentially given intravenously, usually in the front or rear legs.
Vets may place a catheter prior to it’s administration, but experienced vets may also give the injection straight into the vein.
In dogs that are severely ill, dehydrated or anemic (such as dogs in kidney failure), accessing a vein can be difficult. In these instances, the euthanasia solution can be given via an alternate route, such as into the abdominal cavity. In these cases it just takes a little longer (up to 10 minutes) for the drug to work as the body has to absorb the drug into the circulation from the abdomen first.
No, unfortunately because of how quickly the euthanasia solution works, it cannot be reveresed once given.
Yes, dog euthanasia can be performed without sedation. However, in most cases, sedation makes the process smoother and more peaceful. With sedation, a dog will gradually fall asleep peacefully over 5 minutes and be unaware of the final euthanasia injection being given. At this point they are also nice and still which makes the final injection easier to administer into the vein.
Because the euthanasia injection works so quickly (around 10-30 seconds), without sedation this can feel not as smooth, and can be quite confronting for the people that are present. Pets can also potentially move, or react to the initial prick of the injection, causing them to pull their leg away suddenly.
How Will My Dog React?
After being given a pre-euthanasia sedative, dogs will slowly fall into a peaceful sleep over a 5-10 minute period. During this time, owners can feed them treats or give extra love and affection. Once fully sedated, they stay fast asleep while the final euthanasia solution is given. For the vast majority of dogs, the only reaction here is eating treats, deeply snoring and then simply the breathing ceases.
A few normal oddities which can happen that may or may not cause distress to pet owners if not forewarned include:
- initial one off reaction to the initial needle prick
- some sedatives can sting a little bit for a few seconds in a small number of pets, but this is rare
- the full body relaxation may cause the tongue to poke out and may also cause flatulance (at least they are comfortable!)
- their eyes may not fully close
- they may urinate or defecate once passed away
- once passed, dogs can take a few deep breaths, or gasps, which may look like they are struggling to breath to the owner. In fact this is a primitive process called “agonal gasping” or “agonal breathing” which is a normal protective mechanism the complex living body tries to invoke when the brain detects insufficient oxygen. This happens once a pet has completely passed away, and can occur up to a few minutes after passing. An added advantage of pre-euthanasia sedation is that typically it suppresses this potential reaction.
- left over impulses within the nervous system can also lead to things like small muscle twitches, particularly the eyelids, muzzle or small muscles over the shoulder or leg. These are normal and do not indicate a dog is still alive or in pain.
- Other rare but normal relexes can also cause a pet to look like they are stretching or even vocalise a small amount. These are simple reflexes of the body and do not indicate a dog is in pain or suffering. You can rest assured that at this point your dog would be unconscious, a bit like when they are being operated on during surgery. These normal body reflexes occur outisde of the conscious part of a dogs brain.
The euthanasia injection is a bit like an anaesthetic overdose so there is no pain involved. A pet drifts from consciousness, to unconsciousness to passing. Most vets will also give a pre-euthanasia sedative to make sure the pet is as peaceful as possible.
The only rare instance a pet may experience pain is if they move suddenly and the needle relocates, causing euthanasia solution to be given outside of the vein. The euthanasia drug can be irritant to the soft tissue underneath the skin when given outisde of the vein. This risk is elminated by first giving pets a pre-euthanasia sedative.
Extremely rarely, dogs can vocalise during the euthanasia process. Whilst we normally associate vocalisation with potential pain, it is important to realise that the euthanasia drug causes a pet to lapse into full unconsciousness so any vocalisation would be an involuntary normal reflex of the body, without pain. Vocalisation at the time of death can include a moan, a groan, a growl or rarely a howl. We reiterate, these vocalisations are not a dog crying in pain however.
By giving a pre-euthanasia sedative, many of these reflexes, which are benign but can be distressing to pet owners, are usually supressed. This makes the process generally more peaceful for all involved.
Fortunately for us, dogs do not understand they are being put to sleep. They may behave differently at this time generally because they feed off the emotions of their closest humans, who are understandably destraught. Plus they also getting all of this extra attention so they probably wonder what is going on! The important thing is that they know they are loved in those final moments when we say goodbye. There is no better way to show that than being with them with an in home dog euthanasia.
The only way a dog can survive the euthanasia process is if they are given insufficient euthanasia medication. In this instance, once the body processes and eliminates the drug, the animal can regain consciousness, a bit like waking up from surgical anaesthesia. However, most vets will given the correct dosage, and even an overdosage, to be sure that this will never happen.
All vets check for tell tale signs that a dog has properly passed after euthanasia, including the lack of heart beat, breathing, pulse and reflexes.
When should a dog be euthanized?
During any discussion regarding when your dog should be euthanized, it is important to involve your dog’s veterinarian. Together you may be able to definitively decide so that you will know when is the right time for your pet.
In general, making the decision to euthanise a pet should be considered if a dog is suffering from a poor quality of life with little to no hope of improvement. This may be the case when their health prognosis is hopeless, there are financial limitations for proper treatment where rehoming options have been exhausted or even for intractable behavioural problems such as severe aggression.
It is not fair to prolong a dog’s suffering solely because we have an emotional attachment to them. In these instances, euthanasia can be both the hardest decision but also the kindest one.
Some of the signs a dog may be suffering enough to qualify them for euthanaisa include:
- chronic pain that cannot be alleviated in spite of options for pain medication, surgery or chemotherapy
- invasive cancer
- severe irrepairable trauma
- protracted vomiting and diarrhoea
- not eating or drinking
- freqent incontinence
- lost interest in usual activities such as walking, playing, interacting with other pets or isolating themselves from the family
- cannot stand or move, for instance due to severe osteoarthritis
- laboured breathing or excessive coughing
- masses, growths or excessive bleeding
The following are a rough guide as to when to consider euthanasia based on each of these conditions. As always, consult with your vet prior to making a decision so that you can exhaust all treatment options and properly gauge your pet’s remaining quality of life accurately.
- Kindey failure: dogs can live for a long time with kidney failure. In the final stages of the disease, however, no longer responding to treatment leading to not eating, weight loss, vomiting or lack of energy are all points at which euthanasia should be considered.
- Arthritis: many treatment options exist for pain relief from osteoarthritis including pain medication, neutraceutical supplements and even surgery or joint replacements in severe cases. After all treatment options are exhausted and your dog’s pain is uncontrollable or they are no longer able to stand and end up constanstly soiling themselves, euthanasia is appropriate.
- Lymphoma: a lack of response to chemotherapy or severe weight loss, vomiting, not eating and lethargy are all indicators it might be time to think about euthanasia. Lymph nodes can also become enlarge d enough to interfere with eating or even breathing.
- Cushing’s Disease: excessive urination or drinking that is uncontrollable with medication or surgery is the end point for this disease. Side effects of unctrolled cushings also include pronounced weight gain which can lead to your pet being uncomfortable and having a poor remaining quality of life.
- Haemangiosarcoma: this depends on the type and location of the haemangiosarcoma. Generally signs such as difficulty breathing, unusual neurological activity, seizures or sudden collapse are indicators that euthanasia should be considered where there are no other medical or surgical options.
- Liver Failure: this condition is a tricky one as they can have good days and bad days with it. Generally the hall marks of the end stages of liver failure include blindness, diziness, seizures, pacing and aimless wandering. If any of these are affecting your pet’s quality of life, with more bad days than good days, it is time to consider euthanasia.
- Liver Cancer: generally signs such as laboured or distressed breathing, severe inappetence and lethargy, if uncontrollable, are good indicators it’s time.
- Tracheal Collapse: there’s nothing worse than the feeling of not being able to catch one’s breath. Fortunately with tracheal collapse there are a number of surgical and medical options such as cough suppresants. When all of these options are exhausted and your pets has prolonged coughing episodes or shortness of breath, their remaining quality of life should be called into question.
- Dementia: this is a tricky one as often times it is the endless pacing, vocalisations at night that are more distressing to people and neighbours more than the dog. However, marked negative changes in behaviour, including aggression, severe depression or lack of interest in any normal activity such as walking, eating, interactions with people etc, should all be points to consider making a tough decision.
- Spleen Tumour: one of the biggest risks with splenic tumours is the chance of sudden rupture, leading to internal blood loss, collapse and death. If you’ve exhuasted all surgical (potentially remove the spleen entirely) and medical options with your vet, then collapse, discomfort from abdominal distension and severe lethargy or inappetence are points to consider euthanasia.
- Congestive Heart Failure: consider euthanasia when symptoms such as constant coughing, laboured breathing and cyanosis (blue colour to tongue and gums) exist in spite of giving maxed out dosages of heart medication (diuretics etc).
- Torn ACL (cruciate ligament): torn ACL’s can often be fixed surigcally or at least be managed with externa knee braces, pain medications and neutraceutical supplements. All of this depends on factors such as the size of your dogs, their conformation and amount of osteoarthritis present. Consider euthanasia when the chances of a successful outcome are low, treatment options have failed, or in some cases when finances limit what can be done (where rehoming is not an option).
- Seizures: depending on the underlying cause, some dogs can have occasional seizures and then none for years, if ever again. However, frequent seizures which are starting to blend into “cluster seizures” or groups of seizures one after the other indicate a poor prognosis. If seizures are uncontrollable in spite of treatment with medications (it’s important to try different types of medications too), then euthanasia should also be considered.
- Oral Cancer: consider euthanasia when there is an inabilty to take in water and food without syringe, the pain is too severe in spite of pain relief medications, excessive drooling, or general depression in your pet’s demeanour.
- Old Dog: we always say old age is not a disease, but considering when to euthanise an older dog usually comes down to their remaining quality of life depending on their overall heatlh, ability to move around, eat and drink, and take part in the activities that they usually enjoy.
- Degenerative Myelopathy: consider euthanasia when there is an inability to get up and move around, consistantly soiling themselves, lack of enjoyment of life, depression or interest in food.
- Glaucoma: this depends on the underlying cause and the rapidity of onset. Glaucoma can often be treated medically, or as a last resort the globe of an eye can be surgically removed. In the end stages, if your pet won’t cope with partial or complete blindness, or they become depressed or anxious, it might be worht considering euthanasia as an option.
- Diabetes: diabetes is often able to be easily controlled with changes to diet and insulin injections. Where diabetes is left uncontrolled due to a severe underlying cause, failure of treatment or lack of ability to administer treatment due to financial concerns, then euthanasia should be considered as an option when symptoms progess.
- Aggression: euthanasia for aggresion is often considered when either it has been ordered by your local council (for instance after a dog has bitten someone) or when all other behavioural training or rehoming options have been exhausted. Unfortunately an aggressive dog can pose an unacceptable risk, particulary in the case when children or babies are present in the same home.
- Anxiety: euthanasia for anxiety is generally only considered after all other medication treatment and behavioural training options have been exhausted. A dog with crippling anxiety can be as traumatic as any other severe physical illness. This is aside from the distress it can also cause owners and neighbours. If other options including rehoming are not an option or have been exhausted, then euthanasia is an acceptable form of relief for the pet.
- Incontinence: incontinence is not usually a reason on its own to consider euthanasia. There are many medical options that can be used to control incontinence. However, if it exists because of trauma or pain, then these need to be evaluated also.
- Other types of cancer: cancers can come in all shapes, sizes and degrees of severity. In large part the side effects you will witness depend on their location and which organ they affect. The lack of response to chemotherapy or palliative treatment will also determine the time at which euthanasia should be considered. In general, severe uncontrollable pain, vomiting, inappetance, difficulty breathing, difficulty toileting, severe weight loss or neurological signs are all things which may lead to a euthanasia decision being made.
How can I prepare for my dog's euthanasia?
It’s important for pet owners to understand the dog euthanasia process and to mentally prepare themselves for the passing of their pet. So congratulations, that is why you are reading the information on this page.
We encourage pet owners to make this time a moment of celebration as well as mourning and greiving. At home, surrounded by friends and family, with their favourite treats, we can truly celebrate a life well lived and well loved. A thank you to our dog’s for their loyalty and friendship over the years.
In the lead up to their dog’s euthanasia, many families will gather momentos such as photos and paw prints to help to memorialise the life of their dog. They’ll often also take their dog to beach or favourite park for the day. At this time you can also go a little over the top with the treats. A little take away, ice cream and naughty treats they don’t normally have is perfectly ok at this time.
It also pays to prepare the entire euthanasia and aftercare process in advance, as afterwards can be an even more emotional time. Many mobile vets, like Perth Vet Care, will handle the entire process for you at once, instead of having to organise multiple people to do different tasks. Perth Vet Care take care of the home euthanasia, cremation and even taking your pet to the crematorium and bringing the ashes back to your home. That way you can focus on spending those precious moments with your family and friends saying farewell instead.
Absolutely. If your dog is still able to eat and enjoy food, we say why not? As the pre-euthanasia sedative is given we also try to distract them with a positive reward such as liver treats etc, which most will consume with delight.
For the most part our dog’s are unaware they are about the be put to sleep. They do however feed off our energy. So it’s important to give them love and affection at this time. The added benefit of having dog euthanasia performed at home is that they you can hold them in your arms or on your lap as they drift off to sleep. The perfect way to go we think!
The unspoken bond between a pet and their owner is beautiful. When it comes to saying farewell it’s your prescence that matters most. Reassuring pats, cuddles and saying “I love you” all help to keep your pet at ease during the euthanasia process.
This is a personal decision but where possible we recommend people staying with their dog during euthanasia. Not only is it reassuring to your dog, and helps to keep them calm, but the peaceful passing may help to allay any fears you may have had that the process was going to be painful for your pet. There is something comforting seeing and knowing your pet has passed in the most peaceful way possible and that is wasn’t stressful for them at all.
Having said that, if you cannot bear to be present that is ok too. Dog’s do not know they are about to be euthanised. For them, they are eating treats one minute, and then just feel sleepy the next, before falling into deep anaesthesia.
How to explain dog euthanasia to a child
The bond between a child and their pet is often profound, even if largely unspoken. The loss of a pet can leave them with a lasting memory, and we want those memories to be as positive as possible.
When it comes to explaining dog euthanasia to a child the best bet is open and transparent honesty.
It is recommended to avoid euphamisms such as “going to sleep”, “going to live on a farm”, “run away” etc that may cause confusion or do more emotional harm the the honest truth. Incorporating words such as “death” and “dying”, whilst blunt, can often help to ensure the meaning is clear.
If your pet has been unwell for some time in the lead up to the euthanasia, you may have time to slowly introduce the idea.
Doing positive things such as writing their dog a poem or letter, drawing a picture or helping take paw prints, photos and fur clippings can also help.
Pet’s which are cremated are often loving sent with the poem, letter, picture or favourite toy to be cremated with them.
Children are very resilient and usually learn to accept that their pet will no longer be around. However if your child is more affected than usual or is unable to cope, the help of a counsellor may be needed.
This largely depends on the age and maturity of the children involved. After gently explaining the process to them, it is important to ask them if they want to be present. If they do, it’s also important they realise they can leave at any time during the process. Having an adult who can leave with them so that they are not alone and afraid is also essential.
Many pet parents opt to have their child present when they are giving treats whilst the pre-euthanasia sedation is being given. Once their dog falls asleep, the children often leave prior to the euthanasia injection portion of the process.
Either way, the emotional reaction and what is said by the adults often has the biggest impact on the experience of the children. If children are present it is important for everyone to be as calm and reassuring as possible.
How will my dog's euthanasia affect my other pets?
Just like people, every pet is different and so each react differently to the passing of companion. If the pets have shared a close bond together then their grieving process can be quite profound. They may appear sullen and depressed for a period of time until they recover. It’s important during this time to be available for them and try to do things they enjoy doing to take thier mind off it such as taking them walks, playing, treats etc.
On the other hand, some pets seem to recover very quickly. Depending on the pecking order beforehand, a companion pet can also have a noticeable behavioural change, including becoming more outgoing or affectionate.
It depends on the pet and how close their bond was with the pet who has passed. For most pets, there is a brief period where an effect on their demeanour is quite noticeable. With time, they are quite resilient and most recover quickly without issue.
In most situations companion pets should be allowed to be present if they want to. Animals are very intelligent and they will often have sensed something is wrong with the other pet for some time in the lead up to the euthanasia. At the very least, it is recommended to allow the companion to be present after the passing of their mate. This allows a sense of closure.
When pets are not present there have been reports of pets looking for the passed pet for some time following the euthanasia. Rather than being there one minute and gone the next, we recommend they see the pet has passed and perhaps even taken away.
Main reasons for not having another pet present is if they might interfere with the delicate nature of the process. For example, an overly boisterous puppy who just wants the attention of the family members or veterinarian and may interfere more than observe. Other examples are if the other pet is barking constantly at the veterinarian and disrupting the peaceful atmosphere for the pet who is passing away. In these instances we recommend they be separated during the euthanasia but be allowed back in to sniff and be with the deceased pet before they are taken away.
Dog Euthanasia Cost
Dog euthanasia cost generally varies by the weight of your pet. Since larger pets require more sedation and euthanasia solution, naturally their cost is more than for smaller pets.
For a mobile vet service that performs dog euthanasia at home, the price is usually higher than a local clinic due to the travel time, fuel costs, longer appointment times, aftercare service, convience and personal touch that is offered.
Dog euthanasia is usually based on weight and can range from $325 for a small dog, up to $400 or more for a larger dog weighing over 40kg.
Many pet insurance policies cover what is termed “essential euthanasia”. This is where the euthanasia is deemed a humane and essential course of action by your veterinarian, and is also the result of a condition that is covered by your policy. It is important to read the find print and check with your individual insurer, as euthanasia may not be covered in particular situations.
What is generally not covered by pet insurance is:
- voluntary euthanasia (i.e non-essential)
- euthanasia resulting from an event or disease not covered by your policy
- autopsy fees
- cremation, disposal or burial fees
Its a painful reality that people may find themselves in tough financial situations where they cannot afford to even euthanise their own suffering pets. In this case there are number of options to consider:
- set up a payment plan with your vet (for example, we offer payment plans through Vetpay, Zip Money and “Paypal Pay in 4”)
- contact your bank or small loan company to see if you can be approved for a small short term loan
- ask friend and family for financial assistance
- consider gofundme or other crowd sourcing options
- contact your local shelter or rangers office to see if there is a no or low cost service that is offered in your area by your local council
What Happens After my Dog is Put to Sleep?
What happens after your dog is put to sleep will largely depend on what aftercare options you have chosen.
If you are having your pet cremated or buried then generally pets are wrapped in a blanket, or taken on their bedding if you would prefer, for transportation to the crematorium. Our Perth Vet Care service includes the vet taking your pet to the crematorium afterwards for you. With other vet services you may have to make separate arrangements for a driver from a crematorium to pick your pet up after the vet has visited. Alternatively, some people elect to take their own pet to the crematorium themselves.
If you have decided to bury your pet at home, it’s best to prepare the spot in the garden for where they will go beforehand. If you don’t already have a place prepared, it’s important to position your pet how you would like before the onset of rigor mortis makes this difficult. Rigor mortis can set in after an hour or so, making a dog’s body unable to bend or move. Consider using something that will break down to put your dog in, such as our biodegradable pet burial bags.
Lastly, after everything else is taken care of, remember not to neglect taking care of yourself. Losing a pet can affect us as deeply as the loss of a family member. Surround yourself with people who love you, who understand and can help you through the grieving process. Realise that its ok to do the best thing for your pet to relieve suffering by letting them go – you shouldn’t feel guilty. Allow yourself time to heal as time truly is the only thing that can make this loss less intense.
See some of our other resources for dealing with grief.