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Dog Owner Guide to Euthanasia: What to Expect When Saying Goodbye

Stock photography of dogs on Maryland farm outside of Baltimore with a sad looking foxhound

By Dr. Jeff Grognet, DVM, BSc(Agr), Veterinary Assistant Instructor

Let’s face it — no one wants to say goodbye to their best friend. Putting your dog to sleep can be one of the most difficult decisions any pet lover makes. In fact, it unsettles some people so much, that when I teach my veterinary assistant classes, it is the number one reason most list why they refuse to become practicing veterinarians. But while euthanasia is a difficult subject, the procedure serves an important role in the palliative care of many pets.

Why are dogs euthanized?

Veterinarians euthanize pets to end suffering. It is an act of compassion and not something that should be approached out of convenience or haphazardly. Veterinarians take great efforts to ensure that pets are euthanized humanly and in the most comforting way possible.

Should I put my pet down?

A reputable veterinarian will only euthanize a pet if it is justified. Occasionally, people will ask vets to euthanize their dog or cat when they look totally healthy. If the pet appears healthy, we are trained to ask pointed questions to figure why the client is seeking to euthanize their pet. We will not euthanize pets out of convenience or if we believe it is not in the animal’s best interest.

When is justified to put a dog to sleep?

Euthanizing a pet is not something that should be approached lightly. There are six justified reasons for a veterinarian to euthanize a pet:

  1. The pet is terminally ill.
  2. The pet has been damaged beyond recovery.
  3. The pet has an untreatable condition.
  4. The pet’s quality of life has fallen to unacceptable levels.
  5. The pet is a danger to others around it (either due to aggression or disease) with no potential for rehabilitation.
  6. The pet is suspected of carrying a serious transmissible disease (i.e. rabies), there has been human contact with the animal, and killing the animal is necessary to allow a diagnosis.

How are dogs euthanized?

When it is time to euthanize a pet, the comfort of the animal is of paramount importance. The process should be quick, gentle, and as stress free as possible.

Step 1: Make the dog comfortable

We want to make sure that the animal is comfortable well before any drugs are administered.

Often smaller dogs will remain held in the comforting arms of their person. For larger dogs, we will often put a thick rug on the floor for the pup to lay on, sometimes with a padded blanket on top of it.

Step 2: Sedate the dog

The first drug that we administer when euthanizing a dog is a tranquilizer. This allows the pet to quickly and calmly fall asleep — remaining blissfully unaware of what we are doing. We allow 10 minutes or so for the tranquilizer to take effect before proceeding.

What drugs are used to anesthetize a dog?

Our practice uses a mixture of Dexdomitor and Butorphanol to sedate dogs in preparation for euthanasia. But every vet is different in what they prefer.

Step 3: Administer euthanasia solution

Once the dog is unconscious, a euthanasia solution is injected into the dog’s veins. As the pet is asleep, it will not fear or be stressed by the final shot, experience pain or even be aware that the injection was given.

What drugs are used to euthanize a dog?

The drug used during the final injection is called Pentobarbital. Pentobarbital allows veterinarians to create what we call a “good death”, helping pets transition gently from life into death. The drug quickly stops both the heart and brain, allowing the animal to pass on painlessly in a matter of seconds.

Step 4: Cremate the remains

Once the vet has confirmed that the pet has passed, the pet’s body is sent for cremation. Most animal hospitals provide this service on behalf of pet owners. The dog’s body may be cremated communally with other pets or cremated privately, so that the pup’s ashes may be returned to their family.

Making the best of the inevitable

Losing a pet is never easy. But death is an unavoidable aspect of life. The entire euthanasia process is designed to make this inevitable transition as gentle, humane and stress free as possible for both the dog and the loved ones they left behind.

How much does it cost to put a dog to sleep?

Veterinarian prices vary based on a number of factors — including your location’s market rates, the reputation of the vet, whether you have pet insurance, and whether the pet clinic or animal hospital is a for-profit or charitable organization. The latter of which will often offer pet health services on a sliding scale. That said, most veterinarians in my area charge $120 to $250 dollars to euthanize a dog. That fee does not include the cost of cremation or aftercare.

How to euthanize a dog for (nearly) free

If you are considering putting a dog to sleep, odds your dog has been severely ill for an extended period of time or was recently in a traumatic accident. Pet medical bills can quickly stack up in either situation, adding a significant financial burden to what is already emotionally traumatic time for your family. Fortunately, there are many programs available to help lower income families afford veterinary services.

Maryland SPCA PAW program

Qualifying Maryland pet owners can receive substantially discounted prevention, wellness and medical services (including owner requested euthanasia) through the Maryland SPCA’s Prevention And Wellness (PAW) program.

The Maryland SPCA vet clinic typically charges up to $180 per dog for owner-requested euthanasia, but may charge low-income pet owners as little as $60 per dog. In addition, PAW program members save 25% off the cost of all vet services and most medications (excluding heartworm / flea / tick prevention and prescription diets).

To qualify for the MD SPCA’s PAW program you must meet one of the following:

  • Head of household must make $25,000 annually or less as an individual.
  • Head of household must make $42,000 annually or less with dependents listed on tax forms.
  • Head of household must qualify for and provide proof of federal or state assistance.
  • Local public service staff- firefighters, police, and active or retired military upon proof of service.
  • Senior clients 65 years and older upon proof of status.

Proof of income is required and can be based on last year’s income tax form, Social Security Disability, all W-2 forms for the family, Section 8, Free Lunch, Food Stamps, VA Disability, AFDC, WIC or Pay Stub.

Euthanizing pets at home

It is not uncommon for veterinarians to make home visits, though this is not a service that all vets offer. When it comes to euthanasia, the comfort of your pet should be of the upmost importance. If your pet is stressed out when it visits their vet or is fearful of the vet office, you may want to consider having a veterinarian come to your home and put your dog down in a calmer and more comfortable environment for your pet.

Should dog owners put their own pets down?

You should never try to euthanize a dog, cat or any other pet without the assistance of licensed veterinary physician or trained responsible person. When euthanizing a dog, you want to ensure that its last moments are comfortable, stress-free and pain-free.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to euthanize a dog in such a way with any off the shelf or over the counter drugs. For the simple fact that the drugs typically used to euthanize pets (including Sodium Pentobarbital) tend to have a very narrow therapeutic index (i.e. drugs where small differences in dosages may lead to serious therapeutic failures or adverse drug reactions) and are in turn, by and large, heavily controlled substances.

Simply possessing a Schedule II / IIN Controlled Substance (such as pentobarbital, fentanyl, oxycodone, or methamphetamine) without a prescription is a crime in the United States, often punishable by both heavy fines and jail time.

Why are we talking about DIY pet euthanasia?

In 2016, I wrote an article for the Puptrait Studio dog blog titled, “Watch out – Killing Pets with Pain Killers“, warning dog owners about the threat of accidental overdoses from over the counter pain killers. Recently, the Puptrait Studio contacted me concerned about some traffic they noticed resolving to the article as the result of some very unsettling Google searches, including…

  • “Can I euthanize my dog with Benadryl?”
  • “Humanely euthanize dog at home Tylenol PM”
  • “How to euthanize a dog at home?”
  • “How much Helium to kill a Golden Retriever?”
  • “How much Advil do I need to kill my dog?”
  • “Can you put your dog to sleep legally?”

To be clear – absolutely none of these methods are a good idea.

You should never attempt to euthanize pet by yourself — especially through inhumane methods such as asphyxiation or haphazardly poisoning a pet with over the counter pain medication. While many of these over the counter medications will kill a dog, they are not likely to kill a pet quickly or painlessly.

Euthanizing a dog by your self is rarely effective and is often cruel

If your dog overdoses on Advil it will likely result in destruction of their kidneys. An overdose from Tylenol is likely to result in liver collapse. A Benadryl or Tylenol PM overdose is likely to result in seizures, multiple organ failures, and trigger extreme anxiety in your pet. Aspirin has the potential to cause severe stomach ulcers and bleeding of the gut. In short, these disturbing DIY home euthanasia methods are horribly painful and needlessly prolonged ways for a pet to die.

Regardless of what you read elsewhere online, please do not try to euthanize your pets at home without the aid of a licensed veterinarian.

Is it legal to euthanize your own pets?

Animal cruelty and animal torture statutes vary by municipality, but throughout most of the United States a person can be prosecuted for intentionally / knowingly poisoning, crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or otherwise seriously harming or killing most domestic animals and household pets (including dogs and cats) outside of customary and normal veterinary and agricultural husbandry practices.

Animal cruelty is a serious crime

According to the Humane Society of the United States, currently forty-eight states in the USA, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws in place that make different forms of animal cruelty felony offenses, with sentencing guidelines allowing for maximum fines of up to $500,000 and / or maximum jail sentences of up to 15 years.

Regulations exist to ensure that pets are euthanized humanely

Some municipalities, especially those in more rural regions, allow for a handful of specific alternative methods of euthanasia in emergency situations where the standard method of euthanasia cannot be implemented expeditiously and will cause undue suffering to the animal. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has compiled a quick reference chart listing regulations and guidelines detailing who can legally perform pet euthanasia, training requirements, acceptable methods, and emergency exceptions specific to each state.

Dr. Jeff Grognet is a veterinarian practicing in Qualicum beach, BC, Canada. He uses a conventional and alternative medicine blend for the well being of his patients. Dr. Grognet is a veterinarian with the ACE Academy for Canine Educators. We have a free educational Summit June 1 to 4 where you can learn more about health and training topics. Learn more about this topic any other common pet health issues by visiting www.dogtraining.academy.

Dr. Jeff Grognet is a guest contributor and his advice and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Puptrait Studio. Please note this post has been edited for clarity and to meet out studio’s editorial web standards. If you are a pet or veterinary professional and would be interested in contributing to the Puptrait Studio blog please contact us.

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