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Dog Euthanasia: End of Life Options and Preparation Guide

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The ancient Egyptians practiced euthanasia because they thought it would reunite them with their pets in the afterlife. The justification for pet euthanasia has advanced since then – it’s now considered a way to peacefully end the pain and suffering of an animal. The techniques used have also improved through the millennia. Veterinarians first began using pentobarbital in the 1930s, and it is still regarded as the most humane way to euthanize a pet.

Despite these advances, deciding to euthanize a beloved dog is still excruciating. And if this is your first experience with dog euthanasia, the process can seem overwhelming and confusing. We hope our guide will help you navigate this difficult decision.

What is Euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the lawful process of humanely and painlessly helping an animal to pass. It’s considered a final option, reserved for animals who are terminally ill or whose quality of life has irreversibly been diminished. 

“The most important thing is that you know you are doing the best thing for your pet. And your pet trusts you and knows you love them and knows that everything you do is because you care about them,” says Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, director of primary care at Bond Vet, based in New York City.

Only veterinarians and veterinary technicians can perform euthanasia, though several states make exceptions for law enforcement officers in case of emergencies.

Dog Euthanasia Drugs

Veterinarians rely on a combination of dog euthanasia drugs to ensure a gentle and peaceful passing. In addition to the euthanasia injection of pentobarbital, this regimen may include sedatives, analgesics to relieve pain, and anti-seizure medication if the patient is prone to seizures, says Dr. Elke Rudloff, a veterinary emergency and critical care specialist with BluePearl Pet Hospice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The way these drugs are administered can differ. “Medications can be given into a vein with or without an intravenous (IV) catheter, under the skin, into the muscle, and into an internal organ,” says Dr. Rudloff, who is board-certified in veterinary emergency and critical care.

One sedative commonly used in euthanasia for dogs is propofol. “Propofol is often used as a sedative in the beginning of the procedure. This is the same drug that is used to induce pets going under anesthesia for procedures. Propofol causes the dog to be unconscious soon after it is given. There are other drugs that can be given in the muscle that will sedate your dog a few minutes after the injection is given,” says Dr. Amber Karwacki, a partner doctor at Heart + Paw at their Callowhill, Philadelphia location. Giving propofol prior to euthanasia helps ensure a more peaceful passing.

For the actual euthanasia, veterinarians most commonly use pentobarbital, which includes brands like Euthasol and SomnaSol. “It can be injected into the vein, kidney, abdomen, or heart. It causes cerebral death along with respiratory and cardiac collapse in a very quick, painless manner,” says Dr. Susan Jeffrey, an associate veterinarian at Odyssey Veterinary Care in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.

Only veterinarians can prescribe these medications, though they can also be administered by veterinary technicians, subject to the laws in their state.  

Dog Euthanasia Procedure: What to Expect

Old dog lying down

Once you’ve made the decision to proceed with euthanasia, “your veterinarian will review all the steps in the process to make sure you understand what will happen,” says Dr. Karwacki.

Euthanasia for Dogs: The Process

Veterinarians may first administer a combination of medications under the skin to induce a state of sedation, pain relief, and anesthesia, says Dr. Rudloff. “Sometimes an oral sedative is given first if the pet is anxious or fearful. This combination is intended to allow the pet to gently fall into a deep sleep, so that they are completely unaware when the final euthanasia injection is administered. This process can take 8 to 15 minutes.”

Once the dog is in a deep sleep, the veterinarian will inject the euthanasia solution, says Rudloff. “Prior to the injection, some veterinarians will place an IV catheter for easier access to the vein,” says Dr. Jeffrey. Death can occur within 5 to 30 seconds with an intravenous injection, and between 8 and 15 minutes if the solution is injected into an organ, Dr. Rudloff adds.

After the pet has passed (which a veterinarian determines by listening for a heartbeat), Dr. Rudloff says the dog’s body is removed and prepared for cremation or burial.  

Creating a comfortable environment for the dog and family is an essential part of the process. “This could be an area of your home, or a special room in the vet clinic that feels a little more homey and less clinical. You can bring along things your pet will enjoy such as a favorite toy, blanket, or even a special treat if your pet will eat at the vet’s office. If available, you might be guided to a separate entrance or exit from the clinic, to avoid crowds in the lobby,” says Dr. Fadl.

How Long Does Humane Euthanasia Take?

A number of factors, including the dog’s age, overall health, vital organ function, and level of hydration, can affect how quickly drugs are absorbed and how long the overall euthanasia procedure takes, says Dr. Fadl. 

“For the entire process – from walking into the clinic, to sedation, to a pet being euthanized and passing away and you being able to say some final goodbyes – many clinics will schedule 30 to 60 minutes. But this may vary by practice. Typically, these appointments are never rushed.”

How Dogs React to the Euthanasia Process

Some physical reactions that occur during humane euthanasia may seem unsettling but are a normal part of the process. For example, says Dr. Fadl, a dog’s eyes can stay open. Some dogs take deep breaths during or right after the procedure, which she says is reflexive.

Because the bladder and bowels relax​, veterinarians will usually place an absorbent pad under the dog’s bottom.

Though nausea is rare with the administration of sedatives, it can result in salivation or vomiting, says Dr. Rudloff. A seizure-prone dog may have a seizure, she adds, and “Occasionally the eyes will twitch or the tip of the tongue will protrude.”

Ultimately, the process can differ, depending on the dog, says Dr. Fadl. “The important thing to know is, these are physical reactions, not an indication of a dog being in distress or of anything going wrong. Remember, a dog is peacefully sleeping.”

Where Do Pet Parents Fit Into the Euthanasia Process?

Veterinarians usually leave this decision up to pet parents. “If you’d like to hold or pet your dog, that’s almost always okay and even encouraged. It can be a comfort to you and your dog alike to have that contact and connection in their final moments,” says Dr. Fadly. “That being said, everyone processes grief differently. Many pet owners are unable to even be present in the room, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In that case, the veterinary team will comfort a pet during the process.”

Depending on the practice, pet parents usually have the option of saying goodbye for as long as needed. “As animal lovers, veterinarians and their teams understand the need to have these final goodbyes and process the loss of a beloved pet,” adds Dr. Fadl.

Dog Euthanasia at Home Vs. the Vet Office

Man petting old dog

There are advantages, as well as things to consider for each option. It comes down to doing what’s best for your dog and family.

Dog Euthanasia at the Vet Office

The veterinary office is a good option if the dog’s health is rapidly declining and timing is critical, says Dr. Rudloff. Veterinarians also say it can be helpful to have the procedure done in a neutral setting to avoid equating your home with a sad event.

Pet parents who prefer privacy and quiet, however, may not do well in a clinical environment. “Some clinics have only one exit and entry door, in which case the family may need to pass by others in the waiting room when the procedure is complete,” says Dr. Rudloff. “Clinics can’t always control what is happening outside the room where a pet is being euthanized and there may be noise interruptions.”

Dog Euthanasia at Home

In-home dog euthanasia provides the opportunity for the dog and other members of the family to be together in familiar surroundings, says Rudloff. “Perhaps the pet’s favorite place is the backyard and this is where it would be most meaningful to say a final goodbye.”

Your dog’s physical limitations are another consideration, says Dr. Fadl. “For example, a giant breed dog who’s collapsed and has trouble getting into the car might benefit from a home euthanasia, since he would be physically difficult to transport to a veterinary clinic.”

The disadvantages mostly affect the veterinarian, says Dr. Karwacki. “For your veterinarian, they may have a more difficult time working in a smaller space or with lower light than usual. But make no mistake, your veterinarian will make sure to make everything as smooth as possible for your final goodbye.”

Some veterinarians perform house calls for home euthanasia. If your veterinarian is not able to perform house calls, they may recommend a housecall veterinarian who can help you and your pet.

Is Euthanasia Painful for Dogs?

Dog euthanasia drugs don’t cause pain. They put the animal into a deep sleep, similar to how anesthesia acts before surgery, says Dr. Fadl. “The only discomfort, which is minimal and temporary, would be from quick needle sticks for injecting sedation and placing an IV catheter.”

To ensure a dog isn’t in pain or discomfort, Dr. Jeffrey follows the pet’s behavior. If the dog seems uncomfortable, she’ll increase the dose of opioid medication. She also considers the family. “I do my best to alleviate fears the owners may have regarding pain. I tell them the poke of the needle to place the catheter is the most painful part. Most people can relate to this mild pinch.”

What to Do With Your Dog’s Body After Euthanasia

Pet parents have several options for handling a dog’s body after the euthanasia procedure.

Dog Cremation

The pet cremation process involves placing the body in an enclosed area then incinerating at a high temperature. Except for bone tissue, it becomes ashes.

There are two options within this category. With communal cremation, the dog is cremated with other pets. This is not a good option if you’d like to keep your dog’s ashes. Private cremation permits one animal into the chamber at a time, ensuring that you can have your dog’s ashes returned to you.

Dog Burial Services

You can work with a professional pet cemetery provider or bury the dog in your own backyard as long as you follow municipal or state laws regarding pet burials.

How to Bury a Dog After Euthanasia

Home burial is a cheaper option and lets you be close to your dog’s body. There are, however, some potential issues to consider. If you move, the dog’s body will remain with the new owners. Plus heavy rains can cause the body to resurface, which can be upsetting. Or if the body is not properly buried, another animal may ingest the euthanasia solution.

Also consider that dog burial laws vary by state. Most allow backyard pet burials but differ on details. For example, the state of Texas requires residents to bury the pet at least 3 feet underground; while Minnesota refers residents to their local to their city government. City and county governments may also have separate rules. Washoe County (Nevada), for example, requires you to own the property of the proposed burial site.

If in doubt about the rules in your region, ask your veterinarian or a local humane society. You can also check with your local government agency, whether the board of health, animal health, or agriculture department.

What to Know About Pet Cemeteries

Pet cemeteries will usually pick up a dog’s body from your home or veterinary clinic. They also offer memorial products and services, which vary in range and cost.

To find a pet cemetery in your area, check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories or the In-Home Pet Hospice & Euthanasia Provider Directory.

If you leave this decision up to your veterinarian, ask how they plan to handle the remains.

Dog Euthanasia Cost

Having euthanasia done at a veterinary clinic is typically more affordable. The base price for basic in-clinic euthanasia begins at about $50. In-home dog euthanasia starts at about $250.

These prices vary and are subject to increase based on a number of factors including travel fees, provider locations, the types of drugs used, and the dog’s size. These fees also don’t include cremation, transporting the animal, or memorial services and items.

A euthanasia package may offer a better value. Veterinarians with the Lap of Love network, for example, offer one package that includes a meeting with the veterinarian, dog euthanasia drugs, the procedure, a paw print impression keepsake, and lock of fur. Depending on the location, this service ranges from about $350 to $400.

Humane societies may offer low-cost dog euthanasia options. The Dane County Humane Society in Wisconsin, for example, charges $50 for basic euthanasia, but lowers the price to $25 for pets under 3 pounds.

Does pet insurance cover euthanasia costs?

If you have pet insurance, your provider may cover the euthanasia procedure. Additionally, some wellness plans offered through insurance companies may offer reimbursement for additional costs like cremation, burials, and memorials.

Dog Euthanasia FAQs

Man hugging sick dog

We asked veterinarians to answer common questions you may have about dog euthanasia.

How do you know it’s time?

Deciding when it’s time to put a dog to sleep comes down to quality of life. “It can be hard to decide, since many older or ill pets alternate between good and bad days,” says Dr. Fadl. “Think about the things your dog has always loved doing, and whether they are able to do them at all anymore.”

If you’re struggling with a decision, discuss options with your veterinarian. “Pet hospice and palliative care services may be available to promote the comfort of a pet who may be nearing their end of life, but not ready for euthanasia,” offers Dr. Rudloff. BluePearl Pet Hospice also offers quality of life assessments.

Can a dog wake up after euthanasia?

Euthanasia permanently ends brain function, so the dog won’t be able to wake up, says Dr. Rudloff. “There may be involuntary movements that can occur immediately after death as the muscles release energy, but this is not happening because the pet is alive.”

One exception, says Dr. Jeffrey, is if an inadequate amount of euthanasia solution is given.

Do dogs know they are being put to sleep?

It’s hard to know whether the dog is reacting to the given situation or their humans’ emotions. “There are certainly plenty of cases when a dog owner notes that their pet seemed to feel like it was time, or to feel some relief in letting go after they had been suffering from chronic pain or illness,” says Dr. Fadl. 

How long does dog euthanasia take?

Once the IV catheter is inserted and the drug administered, it takes about 1 to 2 minutes for the dog to pass, says Dr. Karwacki. The entire process – including sedation, placing of catheters, and saying goodbyes – generally takes between 30 minutes to an hour.

Grieving the Loss of a Dog After Euthanasia

It’s normal to grieve after you put a dog to sleep. “Everyone works through grief differently and you must do what you feel is best to process the loss of your pet,” says Dr. Karwacki.

The following may offer solace when you’re grieving the loss of a dog after euthanasia.

Memorialize Your Dog’s Life

Remembering your dog can help with closure, says Dr. Fadl. “This can mean anything from framing a photo of them, to getting a paw print in clay or some ashes in a necklace, to holding a funeral service for them, and anything in between.”

Dr. Rudloff says writing about your dog, having a celebratory get-together, or performing comforting rituals can also help.   

Once you’re ready, you may want to consider giving back to your local humane society, by volunteering or donating goods or supplies.

Support and Resources for Grieving the Loss of a Dog After Euthanasia

Most veterinarians offer resources for coping with grief, says Dr. Rudloff. “Some clinics have a veterinary social worker on staff who can be a valuable resource for anticipatory grief, how to talk to children about their pet’s death, how to get help when a family cannot deal with the grief of pet loss or the guilt that can accompany loss.”

Books on pet loss can help, as can support groups. If you’re not sure where to find a group, check with your veterinarian or humane society. Local support group networks like the Pet Loss Research Center may offer virtual options.

Additionally, these organizations provide support and resources.