The Facts surounding Euthanasia
When an owner and veterinarian decide that a pet is suffering or unlikely
to make a recovery, euthanasia offers a way to end a pet's pain. The decision
is difficult for both the owner and the veterinarian, but we should recognize
that sometimes this is the kindest thing we can do in the final stage of a
Understanding how the procedure is performed may help an owner in this
decision. It may also help an owner decide whether they wish to be present
during the euthanasia.
Initially, a pet is made as comfortable as possible. Some veterinarians
will perform the procedure in a pet's home. If the animal is brought to the
hospital, veterinarians often chose a quiet room where the pet will feel more
Sometimes a mild sedative or tranquilizer is first given if the animal
appears anxious or painful.
Frequently an indwelling catheter is placed in the pet's vein to ensure
that the euthanasia solution is delivered quickly. The euthanasia solution is
usually a barbiturate- the same class of drugs used for general anesthesia.
At a much higher dose, this solution provides not only the same effects as
general anesthesia (loss of consciousness, loss of pain sensation), but
suppresses the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
As the solution is injected, the animal loses consciousness and within
minutes the heart and lungs stop functioning. Since the pet is not conscious,
they do not feel anything.
Most times, the animal passes away so smoothly, that it is difficult to
tell until the veterinarian listens for absence of a heartbeat. The eyes
remain open in most cases. Sometimes, the last few breaths are what's termed
"agonal", meaning involuntary muscle contractions but again, the pet
is not aware at this point.
After the animal dies, there is complete muscle relaxation, often
accompanied by urination and defecation. This is completely normal and is
something an owner should expect. In addition, after death, chemicals normally
stored in nerve endings are released causing occasional muscle twitching in
the early post-mortem period. Many owners who chose to stay with their pets
are surprised how quickly and easily the pet is put to rest.
The decision to stay or not stay with a pet is a very personal one.
Some owners feel they could comfort their pet in its final minutes. Others
feel their emotional upset would only upset their pet. Those who choose not to
stay may wish to view the pet's body after the procedure is complete.
Euthanasia is emotional for veterinarians as well. Sometimes, the
veterinarian has known the pet for a long time or has tried very hard to make
the animal well again. James Herriot stated the view of most veterinarians in
All Things Wise and Wonderful::
"Like all vets I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me
there has always been a comfort in the knowledge that the last thing these
helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a
If you have any questions regarding the process of euthanasia, please
contact your local veterinarian. They should be happy to provide the answers
Dr. Laura Eirmann, D.V.M.
Unfortunately, treating catastrophic disorders in large animals, because of
their size, can be an expensive, lengthy process.
Some conditions such as long bone fractures are not readily treated because
of the confinement requirements, potential for infection, and problems that
can develop in other limbs.
If it is economically impossible or impractical to consider treatment, this
should not be a source of guilt or worry. For an abdominal crisis, it may be
appropriate to perform an exploration of the abdomen to determine the severity
of the problem before deciding whether to continue. Regardless, if euthanasia
is indicated, the pharmaceuticals that are available ensure that it is a
quick, painless procedure.
An intravenous catheter is placed by the veterinarian for delivery of drugs
which will euthanize the animal. Some veterinarians prefer to use a butterfly
catheter, which is a small needle attached to tubing to perform the procedure.
The animal may or may not become ataxic (wobbly) upon delivery of the drug.
The drugs will cause first anesthesia, or loss of consciousness, then a
stopping of the breathing and the heartbeat.
Unfortunately, due to their large size, most large animals tend to drop
somewhat suddenly after the drugs are given by the veterinarian. Veterinarians
administering euthanasia to a horse or a cow will often find a quiet, grassy
or straw-laden area in which to put the animal to sleep so that the initial
fall is not so difficult to view.
Frequently following euthanasia, muscle tremors and involuntary jerking
take place. The owner may be disturbed by this but should understand that
these are unconscious movements. The animal is actually unconscious (feels
nothing) just before the initial fall.
Movement of the recumbent large animal after euthanasia can be difficult, so
it may be helpful to perform this close to the place the owner has chosen to
lay the animal to rest.
If you have questions regarding the process of euthanasia, please contact
your local veterinarian. They should be happy to provide answers for you.
Dr. Susan Fubini, DVM
Dr. Andrea Looney, DVM
Tippy & Alfred Say:
It's without a doubt one of the toughest decisions a pet companion can ever
make....whether to put your precious loved one to sleep or not.
Unfortunately, pets just don't live forever.
Luckily, we do believe that pets live eternally and will someday, at some
place other than this physical environment, be re-united with their
If you are facing a tough decision, we
can only say, look into your heart.
There is no joy for you or for your friend to go through constant suffering.
That is more agonizing that anything to watch your pet suffer needlessly.
Do know that if you make the choice...you must absolutely believe you made it
for the best.
Please, please don't feel guilty.
Sometimes it's is really the right and best choice to make. Only you can
determine that. No one else can.
We would also suggest that before you make that final decision, you explore
all options available to you.
Just because one person says there's no hope, does not necessarily mean
that's the final answer.
There are a lot of alternatives.
You owe it to yourself and your pet to explore these alternatives first.
Perhaps nothing can be done, but you've got to try. You've got to give it
everything you can because if you don't.... you know that you'll always
wonder, and you'll always feel guilty. That's just human nature.
If your pet has a serious problem and you are contemplating putting your pet
to sleep, first ask your veterinarian about any alternatives or possibilities
he/she may know of.
Do a search on our site for possible help information.
Contact us if need be.
We do know this, the body, human and animal, has an amazing ability to heal
itself given the right material to work with.
If the last resort is to put your friend to sleep, then you have our
sympathies and our encouragements.
You did the right thing at the time.
You're not God.
Sometimes things happen beyond our control. Sometimes God wants our loved
ones to be home with Him. We don't understand, we grieve, we hurt, but we have
to believe that it is for the best for everyone.
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