Medical Process of Euthanasia
Making the decision to let your beloved pet go is likely one of the most painful and difficult decisions you will be faced with in your life. It is a decision that was likely come to after hours of heart-wrenching discussion and contemplation. By the time you reach the decision to euthanize your pet, make the appointment at our clinic and arrive for the procedure, you will likely be in need of some deep compassion, understanding and support. We are here for you and your beloved pet.
We believe that understanding the process of euthanasia in advance of your appointment will help ease any fear or confusion, and allow you to focus only on the love and bond with your pet during the procedure. If you wish to understand these medical details, please read further.
Prior to Arrival
Prior to arrival, it is important to consider some specifics. You will have a few choices to make about how your pet’s remains are handled. Do you want ashes back (private cremation) or are you okay with the memories you hold in your heart (general cremation, no ashes back)? Or do you wish for a home burial? Do you want a fur/hair clipping as a memento? Do you want a clay paw print? Your veterinarian and nurse team will facilitate all of this and respectfully handle your request, so you need to do nothing but make the decisions. If your pet is still eating, you may want to bring along a favorite treat for them to have during this process. It is also important to consider if you want to pay ahead of this appointment, or receive a bill in the mail later. Some people do not want to be reminded of their pet’s passing with a subsequent invoice. There is no need to stop by the front desk to pay on the day of the procedure unless you want to.
When you arrive for your pet’s euthanasia appointment, the full staff will be aware of the appointment and the need for quiet and to hold this time sacred. You, your family or friends, if present, and your pet will be escorted to our Comfort Room. There, we will have soft lighting, candles and a soft place for your pet to rest. There will be seating for about 3 people in the room, but we can provide more as needed. Plenty of tissue will be on hand.
Once you and your pet are settled in the room, your veterinarian will enter the room and sit down to talk with you. Depending on the situation, you may know your veterinarian well, or this may be the first time you have met. Your veterinarian will take all the time that is needed to understand the situation, walk you through the process and ensure at every point along the way you are ready for the next step. The entire process will take anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on individual needs. You can be with your pet during the entire procedure, or you can decide to leave at any time. If you stay through the entire process, you may want to gather around their head, lay next to them, hold them, pet them and speak words of good-bye and comfort or feed a favorite treat. It is your choice, this is your time with your beloved pet.
In general, once you are ready, the first step in the process will be sedation. Your veterinarian will give an injection under the skin that will provide profound sedation – nearly full anesthesia. The injection may take 5-10 minutes to take effect. At this point, your pet will not be aware of your presence, so it important to say goodbyes before this. This profound sedation is to ensure that your pet feels no discomfort or anxiety from here on out. It is important to know that most animals do not close their eyes when they are sedate or have passed.
IV Catheter Placement
Once your pet is appropriately sedate, your nurse will work with the veterinarian to set an IV catheter in order to have secure and reliable access to a vein. This will ensure a smooth procedure. At times, pets who are presented for euthanasia may be dehydrated and are often geriatric, so occasionally, it can take a few tries to get access to a vein. Your pet will not be feeling any discomfort, as they will be heavily sedated. We will make the greatest effort to do this efficiently and with care and respect for your pet. The catheter will be flushed with clear saline to ensure it is working well.
Occasionally in smaller, debilitated cats, the veterinarian may opt to forego the IV catheter and give the final injection in a humane alternative manner directly into the abdomen. This is painless and takes only a few moments. This option, if indicated, would be discussed with you and decided together.
Once the catheter is placed, the rest of the procedure can happen fairly quickly. Depending on the level of sedation, your veterinarian may add additional IV sedation, followed by the euthanasia solution. Your veterinarian will ensure you are ready and understand each injection before given. The euthanasia solution is an overdose of an anesthetic agent that stops the heart. This is painless to your pet, and they will feel no discomfort, and the heart stops within a few moments. Your veterinarian will confirm your pet’s passing by listening for cessation of any heartbeat (asystole) and no ability to feel a pulse. One thing to know is that most pets don’t close their eyes when they die. They can also void urine and/or feces upon death. And rarely, the body can respond with reflex gasping and/or muscle trembling after the heart stops. We try to avoid this possibility with the medications we administer. We will walk you through these reflexes if they should happen. They are a rare but normal part of the dying process.
Once Your Pet Has Passed
Once your pet has passed, we invite you and your family to stay as long as you need to be with your beloved pet. We often hear how peaceful the pet looks – as if they are sleeping. This can be a time for appreciation, sadness, and closure. If you prefer, our veterinarians will sit with you and hold space, and listen to your stories. Or, if you would like, you can spend time alone with your pet’s body. We will coordinate with you the time you need and check back in with you as needed, if you desire time alone. You may also leave as soon as the procedure is completed.
Once you leave the clinic, we will take the upmost care of your dear pet and ensure that your aftercare wishes are followed through. If you have elected to receive ashes back, or have requested a hair/fur clipping or clay paw print, we will facilitate everything and call you once received, usually in 3-5 days. All items can be picked up at the clinic unless special arrangements have been made.
There are many resources for coping with anticipatory grief (grief experienced prior to the loss of a loved one) and grief following the loss of a loved one. Many of these resources are listed on our website.