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Euthanasia Explained- Memphis Pet Health and Wellness

Posted 08.19.15 by Katie Morrill, DVM

End of life decisions for your pet are never easy. While some clients know with certainty when it is time to say goodbye to a beloved dog or cat, others struggle greatly with this decision. People often look to their veterinarian for input on making this determination.

My personal stance for most cases is that owners know their pet best. If the quality of life has dwindled to a point where the pet does not enjoy much of anything anymore, it is time to let them go.

Why Euthanasia?

The ability to end animal suffering is one of the most sacred duties of a veterinarian, and not one that he or she takes lightly. The term “euthanasia,” comes from Greek roots meaning “good death.” This is what veterinarians strive to provide for the pet, as well as for the grief stricken clients who have made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize. Some clients don’t want to euthanize and would rather “let their pet die peacefully at home.” These clients probably envision their pet passing away quietly while asleep, or perhaps taking one last definitive breath while looking soulfully into the owner’s eyes before drifting away into oblivion.

More likely, though, pets who die at home do not follow these cinematic examples. They may struggle to breath, convulse, or have any number of unsightly and uncomfortable experiences before they succumb. That is why deciding to euthanize in a calm, controlled fashion is recommended. Many veterinarians offer house calls (for a fee) to their regular clients who do not want bring their animals to the clinic to be put to sleep.

put dog to sleep

How Is It Done?

Each veterinarian has their own preferred method for performing this procedure. The protocol used may depend upon owner preferences as well. Some people absolutely want to be present for their pet’s final moment, while others do not want this to be their last memory of the pet. Everyone is different, and no one should be judged for their choice. If a client wishes to be present, I will always sedate the animal and place an IV (intravenous) catheter because the euthanasia solution has to be given directly into a vein. Without an IV in place, an animal might wiggle while I give the injection and not get the entire dose. Euthanasia solution is actually a high dose of an anesthesia drug, but the brain goes through a brief period of excitation before the sedative effects occur. Sedating the animal before giving the actual euthanasia solution can help prevent this.

Even with these precautions in place, some animals may vocalize, eliminate, or make a sudden movement during the procedure. These signs do not mean the pet is in any pain, but simply represent that brief, excitatory reaction to the drug. I always remind people that these things can occur, so that they won’t be taken aback if anything does happen. Most pets, however, go very quickly and peacefully with the method. Often people would like a few more minutes to be with their pet after the procedure, which they are always welcome to do for as long as they need.

What Happens to the Remains?

After euthanasia, the remains can be taken care of in a number on ways. Some clients take their pet home to bury. This is only legal in certain areas, so check with your town before deciding on this option. Many clients opt for cremation of their pet’s remains, and we work with several wonderful, trustworthy companies that offer this service. Most commonly clients will choose general cremations, but some prefer private cremation with return of ashes for an extra fee. There are even pet burial services in a dedicated cemetery, but be aware that ongoing upkeep fees may be involved.

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