Euthanasia is probably the most difficult decision you will ever have to make for your pet. Nothing will make the decision easier, but knowing what to expect can help soothe some fears and anxiety and gives needed information.
At Kulshan Veterinary Hospital, all patients are sedated prior to euthanasia. There are different methods of sedation, but most dogs and cats will be given a combination of anesthetic drugs in large doses. These drugs are usually injected under the skin, as this is the least painful way we have of administering them. While most patients do not react to the injection, it can cause a brief stinging sensation and some patients may flinch or vocalize. The sedative typically takes 5-10 minutes to take effect; depending on the patient it could take a shorter or longer amount of time. Many times the patient’s eyes will not close, but they no longer react to any stimulation. The doctor will check sedation levels and make sure that the pet is not aware or able to feel any pain prior to injecting the euthanasia solution.
Once the pet is fully sedated, the euthanasia solution is injected into a vein. Sometimes we need to clip some fur to access the vein, other times we apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Usually a veterinary nurse is assisting the doctor. Once injected, the euthanasia solution works extremely quickly. Sometimes patients may take a few reflexive breaths or nerves may continue to fire causing some movement even after the heart has stopped. Rarely patients may reflexively vocalize. All of these actions are purely reflex; the nerves firing after all other expressions of life have ceased. The doctor will always check and double check that the patient is truly deceased.
In most cases with dogs and cats, the owner has the option to be present for all or part of the euthanasia. Some owners prefer to stay for the entire process, others wish to leave after their pet is sedated, still others prefer not to witness any of it and leave before their pet is sedated. All of these are understandable options; the decision rests solely on the pet owner. When pet owners are not present, we make sure that the pet feels comforted and loved.
There are some instances, such as with exotic pets who are sedated with gas anesthesia, when we cannot allow the owner to be present. If this is the case, the doctor will discuss this with you as you make your decisions. In all cases, whether the owner is present or not, the pet is humanely euthanized immediately with great care, respect, and compassion.
After the patient has been euthanized, we make an ink print of their paw that will be sent to you along with a hand-made sympathy card.
There are several options available regarding care of remains for pets: private cremation, semi-private cremation, non-private cremation, or home burial. Pet cemetaries are not common but are available in certain places as another alternative.
- Private cremation means that your pet is the only animal being cremated, and the ashes are collected and returned to you. We recommend Life Cycles Pet Crematorium for private cremations. This is a local Bellingham facility with various options available. Additional information may be found at https://www.life-cycle-pet-cremation.com
- Semi-private cremation means that while there may be more than one pet being cremated at the same time, there are dividers in place that allow for ashes to be collected and returned. For semi-private cremation, we recommend either Life Cycle or S. Morris Pet Crematorium in Seattle. With S. Morris, ashes are returned to the clinic within 1-2 weeks, at which time we will call you.
- Non-private cremation means that there is more than one pet being cremated at the same time without dividers, so individual ashes cannot be preserved and are not returned to you. We use S. Morris for non-private cremations also.
- Home burial is an alternative to cremation. If you decide to bury your pet at home, please check with city or county ordinances. Many require burials to be 3-6 feet deep and be a certain distance from water tables or water supply lines. It is recommended to bury pets in a thick bag within a secure receptacle to discourage other animals from being attracted to the site. Unless otherwise directed, we place deceased pets on a lining bag within a sturdy cardboard casket before helping you out to your car.
We understand how difficult it can be to think about euthanasia. Most of us have faced the same hard questions with our own pets. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions or voice any concerns that you have. We are here to help.