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Weighing the Decision to Euthanize Your Dog

Making the decision to help a pet die is one of the most difficult you’ll ever make. It starts with deciding when to do it. This is different for every person and for every dog.

Many people, in consultation with their vets, believe euthanasia is best before a dog reaches the later stages of a disease. But when? If you wait too long, he might suffer needlessly; if you make the decision too soon, you rob yourself and him of precious time together. Only you can truly assess your dog’s quality of life.

Of course, this decision should never be impulsive and always with the dog’s best interest at heart. Once you and your vet weigh all the important indicators that it’s time, here are a few guidelines for making the passage easier, as well as a few facts it may be helpful to know ahead of time:

  • As the time for euthanasia approaches, many people arrange a special day with their companions. It may be a steak dinner, a last camping trip, a ride in the car, a walk along the beach, or just a little extra private time.
  • Some owners take photographs or videos that serve as important reminders of their special four-legged companions.
  • Euthanasia is often performed at a veterinary hospital, but some vets do make house calls.
  • Some people opt to be present during the euthanasia procedure, believing it helps if they are present. Others worry their anxiety might stress their pet unnecessarily. Understanding the procedure and knowing what to expect can help you make a choice that is best for both of you. It is similar in all veterinary hospitals, with minor variations:
  • Many vets begin by giving a tranquilizer. While your pet is relaxing, you can spend some private time with him. Some people choose to leave once their dogs are calm; others stay.
  • For the actual euthanasia, an intravenous injection of a very strong anesthetic solution (pentobarbital) is given. The only discomfort your dog might feel is the prick of the needle—no different from taking a blood sample. Sedated dogs rarely notice this.
  • Within seconds of administration, the anesthetic stops the function of your dog’s brain and heart. He slips into a final “sleep.” 
  • You may opt to take a reminder of your pet home with you, such as a lock of hair or a well-worn collar.
  • Before the procedure you should discuss options for body care with your veterinarian. You may decide on a home burial, or ask your vet to take care of your dog’s body. You can also request a private cremation (your pet’s ashes will be returned to you) or a communal cremation with other pets.

The euthanasia process is far more than giving an injection. When making decisions, consider what is best both for you and your friend. Feel comfortable with how your pet will spend his final moments.