Look not where I was
For I am not there
My spirit is free
I am everywhere
- Carol Kufner
Having a dog 'put to sleep' or 'put down' is the common phrase for euthanasia, a humane death for your pet. The following information could apply to any pet; however, it is 'man's best friend', the dog, that we're concentrating on here.
The solution commonly used by vets for putting dogs to sleep is sodium pentobarbitone/pentobarbital. It is administered intravenously via an IV cannula1, injected on a shaved area of the dog's foreleg. The immediate effect is loss of consciousness, swiftly followed by either cardiac or respiratory arrest, hence the phrase 'put to sleep'.
There are various reasons for having a dog put to sleep, the most common one being to end the dog's pain and suffering. This is often though not always as a result of old age. Different dog breeds have slightly different life expectancies. Small dogs tend to live a few years longer than the larger breeds. Whether your dog is big or small, pedigree or mongrel, there may come a time when you will have to make this heart-rending decision.
Making the Appointment
Assuming that either by prior consultation with your vet, or from observation of your dog, or a combination of both, you decide the time has come to make an appointment for euthanasia. Whether you make the appointment by telephone or in person will be a matter of convenience. Once you have conveyed to the receptionist what you require, you will probably be offered the last appointment on the day and opening session that is convenient for you; if not, ask for the last appointment.
If you are a regular at the vet's clinic, and know the name of the vet you usually see, ask for the appointment to be made with that particular vet, or tactfully request an appointment with an experienced vet; yes, newly qualified vets have to practise on someone's pet, but not on your dog, not for this procedure.
Arriving for the Appointment
You may want to think about taking some of your dog's favourite treats for this appointment: a few small bits of cooked meat, such as chicken, or some doggy chocolate drops2, so the last thing your pet tastes will be something he or she enjoys.
On arrival, let the receptionist know that you are there, as you normally would. If the vet is running late, you may decide to take your dog for a short walk outside, returning in plenty of time, rather than waiting in the waiting room. Many dogs do not like vet clinic waiting rooms, but most receptionists are happy for you to wait outside with your dog, providing you remain in view so they can signal you or easily call you when it is your turn to go into the surgery room.
Being There at the End... or Not
Whether you should be with your dog in the last seconds of their life or not is a personal choice which only you can make. It's best, however, to make that decision before you enter the vet's surgery room.
Some dog owners feel that a familiar comforting stroke and calming voice are the last kindness they can offer their dog; though, as most dogs can pick up on their owners' moods, you would need to mask any sadness, so your dog does not mirror your feelings. Others find the idea too upsetting, and worry that their distress would in turn upset their dog. In that case, let your vet know if you would like to wait in the waiting room and see your dog after they have passed away; this shouldn't be a problem.
What Happens in the Surgery Room
You will be asked to sign a consent form, thereby giving the vet your permission to euthanise your dog. You will be asked about your wishes for your dog's cremation or burial arrangements. Your options will probably be:
The vet's standard cremation arrangements: this will be a communal cremation.
A private burial: your vet may have details of local pet cemeteries.
Private cremation: you will collect your dog's ashes, contained in an urn, at a later date. This option should include a certificate clarifying that the ashes are of your dog.
If your dog is wearing a collar, harness etc you will be asked if you would like to keep them. Some owners like to keep their dog's identity tag; it's a good idea to remove this from the dog's collar before your appointment if you want to keep it as a memento.
Your vet should be happy to answer any questions, or discuss any concerns you may have about the procedure. It might be worth asking if a sedative would be advisable, especially if your dog is of the nervous type.
Before you lift your dog onto the vet's examination table, you may want to spend a minute or two giving them some special attention and maybe offer your dog some of their favourite treats, if you have bought any with you.
It is common practice of dog owners to securely hold their dog in the standing position when their dog is on the vet's examination table. This is to enable the vet to examine the dog, and to prevent the dog from falling or jumping off the table. However, before euthanasia takes place, your dog should be lying on his or her side. If your vet doesn't suggest lying your dog on their side, make sure you suggest it yourself. If your dog is standing when euthanised, he or she will fall dying into your arms, and this can cause immediate and prolonged distress to some dog owners.
Now we come to what is sometimes the difficult part. The vet needs to find a vein to insert the cannula. For this purpose a small area of fur on one of your dog's legs, usually a foreleg, will be cut back, or shaved. Be aware that it may take a few attempts for the vet to insert the cannula into the vein. During this time your dog may get a little stressed, and may also yelp a little. It might be a good idea to let the vet's assistant hold your dog for this part of the process, then once the cannula is inserted, you can comfort your dog before the euthanasia solution is administered.
Once the euthanasia solution has been administered, your dog will pass away very quickly. Shortly afterwards your vet will use a stethoscope to check your dog's heart and inform you that he or she has gone.
You don't need to feel self-conscience about grieving for your dog; he or she has been your faithful friend, part of your family, a friendly greeting when you got home after a long day, a comfort when you were sad, all of this plus much more. Non-dog-owning friends probably won't understand your grief, but your dog-owning friends, they will understand.
The cost will vary between different veterinary practices in different areas. It will also depend on the size of your dog, and whether you make any special cremation arrangements. Below is an example of the cost in September 2009 for a medium-sized dog, with the vet's standard cremation arrangement.
- Euthanasia dog = £32.65
- Standard cremation dog medium = £34.87
- Pentobarbitone = £6.78
- VAT = £11.15
- Total = £85.45
Having Your Dog Put to Sleep at Home
Some vets, though not many, are willing to come to your home to administer the euthanasia solution. However, this is not always practical for the following reasons:
There will be no assistant available, if they are needed.
As your dog is in his or her own territory, they may not be as cooperative as they would more likely be in the vet's surgery room.
What to do with your dog once he or she has passed away, which will very likely be followed shortly after with emptying their bladder and bowels (not a problem in the vet's surgery room).
The extra cost of an out of hours visit.
You will also have to arrange the cremation for your dog, and for your chosen cremation service to collect your dog's body.
If you are determined this is the best way for your dog despite the impracticalities, you may need to contact several vets before you find one who is willing.
If you would like to keep your dog close to you, by burying him or her in your garden, this may be possible. However, you should contact your local authority regarding permission, regulations and restrictions3. Also remember that the grave would need to be deep enough so that any unpleasant odours do not attract wildlife, such as foxes, or any other dogs you have now, or may have in the future to dig where your dog's body lies. You would also have to consider the possibility of contaminating groundwater as well as any future residents, and any possible landscaping that they might carry out may disturb your dog's grave. The easiest option would be to bury or scatter your dog's ashes in your garden, and purchase a dog head stone or memorial plaque for your garden.