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Euthanasia of a Family Pet

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” 

Alice Sligh Turnbull

“When the cat you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.” Anon.


Death is a normal part of the cycle of life, & the time span of

birth to old age is relatively short in dogs & cats, so, inevitably,

most owners face making life-and-death decisions for pets ill

or injured, given a poor prognosis for recovery, or when the physical, financial, or emotional burdens of treatment are beyond a family's means. Sometimes a pet's behavior isn’t compatible with safe, happy, relationships.  Some of the most difficult decisions involve larger dogs with crippling orthopedic problems. And in many elderly pets, the panoply of infirmities of advanced age markedly affect their ‘quality' of life, which is far more important than ‘quantity’.  Euthanasia by a veterinarian can offer the most  humane & loving ending for the pets entrusted to us.  

Most people express the desire to 'die peacefully in my sleep’ but few humans, or pets, do.  Many worry euthanasia will be painful & wonder if it's better to ‘let nature take its course’.  'Nature' is rarely kind. In our country, thankfully,  few people have to watch another person, or themselves experience, a completely natural death.  In nature, animals live outside, in a daily struggle to survive, and where, even predators are prey, and  if injured or ill, they don't linger. 


In pet euthanasia, (esp. when done by a veterinarian without technician support), commonly, but not always, a tranquilizer is given subcutaneously, causing at most a stinging sensation. When the pet is sedated, another injection is administered, usually intravenously, of a very concentrated barbiturate solution. The drug causes rapid & irreversible unconsciousness, & brain death & is quick, & painless.  Your pet may vocalize, move its legs or head, breathe deeply for some time after the drug is given,  & the heart may continue to beat for a time.  These are reflexes & don’t mean your pet is in pain or suffering. Although one needs to be careful using this term, with an anesthetic overdose, in a way, they do 'go to sleep' – never to wake. (Unless kept very cold, pets held for burial may show tiny muscle twitches for some time after death).  Establishing an IV catheter, which almost always involves a larger needle, is even more difficult than simply injecting into a vein, & can be painful unless done after sedation, so unless a large volume is to be infused, it's mostly unnecessary  questionably humane.

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