The decision to euthanise your dog is an incredibly difficult one to make. Whether it comes at the end of a gradual decline or a sudden, serious illness, all owners will have questions and concerns. Our vet, Niamh, looks at some of the most common questions from dog owners and shares her insights.

If you do have any of your own, please do leave a comment on this post or visit our Ask a Vet section.

How do we euthanise a dog?

Most of the time, dogs are euthanased with an IV (intravenous) injection of an anaesthetic agent called Pentobarbitone. We basically give an overdose of this drug, so it first makes your pet unconscious, and then the part of your dog’s brain that tells his heart to keep beating will shut down and he will pass away. The injection is usually given into the vein on one of your dogs front legs. It takes 30-60 seconds to give the injection, and your dog has usually passed away by the time the vet finishes injecting. 

Does the process hurt my dog?

Since the process involves an injection, your dog will feel a short, sharp, needle prick on their front leg when the injection goes in, but after that nothing else will hurt. Remember, if you have seen your dog getting their vaccinations or another injection before, that dogs seem a lot less bothered by injections than us! 

Most dogs don’t react to this injection particularly, but if your dog is particularly sensitive then speak to your vet beforehand as they may be able to do something like applying a numbing cream to the leg beforehand, or giving your dog a bit of sedation in advance so he is more relaxed. That said, either of these options will prolong the process, and sedation can make it more difficult to find a vein as it reduces the blood pressure – so there are pros and cons to all these approaches. Of course, your vet should be happy to discuss it with you. 

Will my vet think I’m silly if I cry?

Of course not! As vets, we have seen hundreds of pet owners go through this process, and many of us have been through it ourselves. We know how upsetting it is, and we expect you to be emotional. We don’t think any less of you if you cry, or if you don’t – we know that everyone deals with things in different ways, and that it is devastating to lose a friend in any circumstances. 

What can I expect to see after my dog has passed away?

Unfortunately, as dogs have different types of eyelids than us, they do not usually close their eyes when they die, and it is very difficult to close their eyes. So it is more than likely that your pet’s eyes will remain open.

In some cases, they may pass urine or faeces. This is because when they become unconscious, all their muscles relax, including the muscles that are controlling their bladder and bowels. In some cases (but not all), your pet may take what looks like some deep breaths or gasps at the end. This is often after their heart has stopped beating and is a reflex, known as “agonal breathing”. It can look alarming but please rest assured that your dog doesn’t know anything about it and it doesn’t mean that your dog is still alive, it is simply a reflex. 

What will happen to my dog’s body afterwards?

You will usually have a choice about what you would like to happen to your dog’s body. If you like, and you have the appropriate facilities, you can take him home with you and bury him. If that isn’t the right option for you, then your vet can usually arrange for him to be cremated. All vet practices will have an arrangement with a pet crematorium who will come regularly (usually once or twice weekly) to collect the pets that need to be cremated. 

They can then either have a group cremation, where they will be cremated with other pets and you will not be able to get their ashes back; or an individual cremation where they are cremated alone and you can have their ashes returned to you. While they are waiting for the next crematorium collection day, your dog’s body will be placed in cold storage at the vets practice. 

Don’t worry, veterinary staff will treat your dog’s body with dignity and respect at all times. 

Will the vet think I’m a bad owner for wanting to put my dog to sleep?

Absolutely not! We know that this is a really difficult decision to make and one that you will have agonised over before deciding. We know that every family has unique circumstances which may affect when this decision is made, and we are not here to judge that.

Can I have my dog put to sleep at home?

This depends on your vet practice, how busy they are, how many spare staff they have and what time of day it is. Many vet practices do offer this service, but it does take a vet and a nurse away from the practice for quite a long time, so needs to be organised in advance and will come with a cost. It may not be possible at short notice or outside of normal business hours. 

Remember, above all else, if you have any questions about the euthanasia process, palliative care or decision making – speak to your vet. We have heard it all before, so no question seems silly to us. By the time it comes to palliative care, we will probably know you and your pet quite well and so we will be invested too, and we just want everything to go smoothly and for you to feel comfortable with what’s happening. 

Other blogs in this series include;