This is the second installment of a two-part discussion on humane euthanasia in veterinary medicine. In the first part I described the difficult decision making process, and now I will discuss the actual procedure.
The decision making process of putting a pet to sleep can be made harder if you don’t know what to expect. It is important that you feel comfortable to ask your veterinarian exactly how the procedure will take place. At Seattle Veterinary Associates we offer in-home euthanasia services. We offer this service so that you and your pet can remain in the comfort of your own home instead of coming in to the clinic. There may be some differences between practices and individual veterinarians, however in general the procedure will be very similar. Firstly, there will be a form to fill out giving permission for the euthanasia to occur and asking about the owner’s wishes for the pet’s remains. An intravenous catheter may be placed to ensure easy access to a vein for medications. If the pet is at all alert, the current standard of care is to give a sedative prior to the euthanasia. This allows for the pet to relax or even fall asleep over 5-10 minutes, and provides for a more gentle transition for the owner to have some peaceful time to say goodbye. After the pet is sedate or asleep, a painless intravenous overdose of anesthesia is given to stop the heart. This injection is usually brightly colored (pink or blue) so that it is never confused with other drugs. It will only take a minute or two after this injection for the pet to pass away. At this time the veterinarian will likely leave the owner to spend a few final minutes with the pet in privacy. Some owners may want to take a lock of hair or the pet’s collar as remembrances. Most owners would have already made a decision on their pet’s remains. These usually include private cremation with return of the pet’s ashes (there are companies that can make personalized jewelry from the ashes), communal cremation and no ashes returned, or taking the body home for burial either at home or a pet cemetery. There are city ordinances on burying the body at home so these will need to be checked prior.
People will have varying degrees of grief after losing a beloved pet. Some may need to just take a long walk, others will want to talk about the experience with loved ones or a therapist, maybe create time and space for some type of remembrance, or simply cry. For some, losing a pet may mean losing their closest companion and it can be extremely traumatic. There are a number of free pet loss hotlines and books available that may be helpful, and by seeking these out people will find that they are not alone in their grief.
Maryam Salt, DVM
Queen Anne Animal Clinic