Question from Diane Stirk:
I had to have my little blind girl put to sleep Friday, she was 13 and had all symptoms off dementia, but after the vet said she had gone she gave out a cry and her body jolted, y did she do this does it mean she wasn’t gone, I’m heatbrocken over this,
Answer from Shanika Winters:
Hi Diane firstly I am very sorry that you recently lost your pet, having a much loved pet put to sleep is always a very difficult decision. I will try and explain what happens when a pet is put to sleep and to explain what can happen afterwards. I hope that this can help to ease your upset over what happened with your pet.
The reason we call euthanasia of a pet putting them to sleep is because your pet is actually given a very high dose of anaesthetic (drugs which are normally used to bring us to sleep for an operation). The dose of anaesthetic given will cause your pet’s heart to stop beating; they will also stop breathing which results in them passing away.
The anaesthetic drug is usually given by an injection directly into your pet’s blood stream. With cat and dogs the injection is usually given into a vein on one of the front legs. A small area of fur is first clipped away, the skin is then cleaned, and your pet’s leg will be supported by an assistant to enable your vet to put the injection into your pet’s vein. You are still able to hold or hug your pet while the injection is being given if you want to. In the case of rabbits the injection is often given into a vein on the ear, some smaller pets are given anaesthetic gas first followed by an injection.
In some cases if the blood stream cannot be accessed, as your pet may have a collapsed circulation then the injection may be given into the kidney or liver. The anaesthetic will then be absorbed into the blood stream a little slower than when injected directly into a vein.
If your pet is distressed or generally frightened at the vets then they can be given a sedative before the anaesthetic injection. The sedative is to calm your pet and reduce anxiety, which should hopefully make the process of losing your pet less stressful for both pet and owner. Use of a sedative does however mean that the process will take a bit longer as the sedative will take time to work. The sedative can be given as a tablet or injection into the skin or muscle.
Once the anaesthetic reaches the correct concentration in your pet’s blood stream, this will cause your pets heart to stop beating and them to stop breathing. Your pet will no longer react to sounds or touch; your vet will listen to your pet’s heart, feel for its pulse and may check its reflex by gently touching the eye. This is all to confirm that your pet has passed away.
After a pet has passed away as the muscles relax the bladder and bowels may empty, some pets also give a gasp as the air leaves the lungs. In some animals there are jerky movements after death, called agonal movements. These movements do not mean that your pet is alive or suffering. The agonal movements happen as chemicals leak out of the body cells and allow muscle to contract. Normally when alive these chemicals are kept in place until the body needs to use its muscles.
Understandably it can be very distressing for a pet owner to see or hear sounds coming from their pet after he/she has been put to sleep. If you have any concerns either before or after losing a pet then make sure you contact your vet or veterinary nurse. We will make time to discuss things with you and do our best to help put you at ease with this very difficult situation.
I hope that this answer has helped a little to explain what happened after you lost your pet and that your worries have been eased.
Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online vet)