The vet candidly shared:
I will always try to give grace and save my judgments on how people are able to deal with grief because everyone is different, but MAN… it is f**king depressing to have a dog spending its final moments looking for where their owner went. I feel like it’s the very last comfort you can give your friend, just being there by their side to comfort them.- Vet on Reddit
The practitioner recalled a recent experience they found particularly tough, saying they wished it "could have ended differently."
Elaborating on the dog’s behavior in his final moments, the vet stated:
Y’all, this dog we euthanized literally tried so hard to walk himself out the front door with his leash after his owners left and continued to cry and stress out until the propofol got him. We did our jobs and gave all the treats and love, but the focus was always, ‘where did they go?’- Vet on Reddit
The vet expressed that it was a "bummer that those were his final moments," emphasizing that the dog was a "really good boy" who deserved better.
A pet owner's hand on a dog's paw.
The Reddit community had mixed feelings on the issue. Some individuals empathized with pet owners who found it too difficult to be present.
“I used to be very judgmental of this but now I'm a few more years into the field I'm much more understanding,” one comment read.
Another person added that it's understandable not to want to see the "final injection," especially when post-death reactions like "agonal breathing and releasing the bladder" can occur.
However, there was also criticism from pet owners who seemingly left without much thought.
“Although I do hate when people essentially hand the animal over and leave without a care, as if the animal was just nuisance. At least get them settled in and give them lots of love so they feel safe before you step out,” another user pointed out.
Some professionals offered alternative solutions. “I liked to give people the option of staying until the pet was sedated for the peace of mind that the pet was not searching for them but they could choose to not be there for the actual euthanasia,” one commenter wrote.
Another shared, "As an LVT I have always taken it upon myself to inform the owners that I would stay and sit with their pets throughout the entire process. Clients are usually very grateful for that."
This complicated emotional landscape surrounding pet euthanasia underscores the importance of not just considering our own emotions, but also the well-being of our four-legged companions in their final moments.
As the vet pleads for owners to stay when dogs are put to sleep, he poignantly summed it up:
I’m not even talking about the actual euthanasia, but the moments leading to it. For those of you saying dogs, ‘just think their owners stepped out for a moment,’ are missing it: even if that was the case, they still stress out.- Vet on Reddit
Euthanasia is often the last resort for pets who are suffering or have no chance of recovery. While it's a difficult decision to make, understanding how the process works may ease the emotional burden for pet owners. Most veterinarians aim to make the experience as comfortable as possible for both the pet and the owner.
Veterinarians usually choose a quiet, calming environment for the procedure, which may even be conducted in the pet's home.
In cases where the animal is anxious or in pain, a mild sedative or tranquilizer may be administered. The euthanasia solution itself is usually a high-dose barbiturate, which leads to loss of consciousness, followed by the cessation of heart and lung function. The animal doesn't feel any pain during this process.
Owners should be prepared for some natural post-death occurrences, like urination, defecation, and occasional muscle twitching, which can be unsettling but are entirely normal.
The choice of whether to stay in the room during the procedure is deeply personal. Some owners find comfort in being present, believing their presence soothes their pet. Others worry their own emotional state may distress the animal further.
For those who choose not to stay, viewing the pet's body afterward is an option.
Euthanasia is not just emotionally taxing for pet owners; it's also a sensitive issue for veterinarians. Many vets have known the animal for years and feel a deep sense of loss after performing the procedure.
The emotional weight of euthanasia is best captured in a quote from James Herriot's All Things Wise and Wonderful:
Like all vets I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me there has always been a comfort in the knowledge that the last thing these helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a gentle hand.- James Herriot
While the clinical aspects of dog euthanasia are crucial, the emotional toll it takes on pet owners cannot be understated. It's essential to prepare emotionally for this difficult decision to ensure the best possible experience for both you and your furry friend.
- Consult Specialized Counselors - Grief counselors specializing in pet loss can provide professional advice on coping strategies.
- Family Conversations -Open and honest dialogues with family members can help make a collective decision, easing individual emotional burdens.
- Pet Loss Support Groups -These communities offer a space for sharing experiences and strategies for coping, which can provide additional comfort and support.
Before proceeding with euthanasia, a pre-consultation with your veterinarian serves as a critical point to discuss various concerns. This step, often overlooked, can provide a more rounded understanding of your pet's quality of life and what to expect in the days leading to the procedure.
- List of Health Questions -Prepare a comprehensive list of questions about your pet's current health condition.
- Treatment Options - Discuss any remaining treatment options and their likely outcomes with your vet.
- Emotional and Ethical Aspects -Use this consultation to understand not just the medical but also the emotional and ethical facets of your decision.
A dog on a pet owner's lap.
- Restlessness- Constant movement or an inability to settle may indicate stress or discomfort.
- Whining or Vocalizing- Unusual sounds from your pet could be a sign that they are anxious or scared.
- Panting- Excessive panting may be a sign of nervousness or pain and is something you should take note of.
- Avoidance- If your pet is avoiding eye contact or physical contact, this might indicate that they are feeling uneasy.
- Shaking or Trembling- This is often a sign of stress or fear and could indicate that your pet is not at ease.
- Clinginess- On the opposite spectrum, some pets may become overly attached, seeking constant touch or reassurance.
- Loss of Appetite- A sudden disinterest in food or treats could be a sign your pet is not feeling well.
- Change in Body Language- Ears pinned back, tail tucked, or raised fur can all be signs that your pet is uncomfortable.
By recognizing these behavioral signs, you can take steps to make your pet as comfortable as possible during their final moments, which can make the experience less stressful for both you and your pet.
The procedure's conclusion marks the beginning of another journey—handling your pet's remains with dignity. Practical concerns like these, while painful to think about, are necessary and should be planned in advance.
- Advance Planning - Decide on cremation or burial well in advance to reduce emotional strain later.
- Local Regulations - Familiarize yourself with local laws concerning pet burial if you choose to go this route.
Understanding these additional facets, emotional preparation, pre-consultation, pet behavior, and aftercare, can provide a more holistic view of the euthanasia process, thus aiding pet owners in this emotionally charged journey.
While euthanasia serves as a humane option for pets in dire conditions, it's not just the owners and their pets who experience the emotional weight of the decision. Veterinarians, the professionals tasked with performing the procedure, also face considerable emotional stress.
A veterenarian euthanazing a dog on a table.
Being a veterinarian is a fulfilling yet emotionally taxing career, and the act of euthanizing animals adds another layer of complexity to the job. The procedure impacts veterinarians deeply, a fact often overlooked when discussing the ethical and emotional aspects of pet euthanasia.
Dr. Michael Heath, a Melbourne-based veterinarian, went as far as traveling to India to participate in a volunteer dog spaying program to understand the impact that performing euthanasia was having on his own emotional health.
I didn’t realise how regular euthanasing of animals was taking a toll. The Indian project was no-kill, so I had to find solutions to treat various cases in other ways. I was so surprised at how differently I felt in my approach to my work when I was not euthanasing animals on a regular basis, and also not dealing with the distress of pet owners, and my own emotions about doing it.- Dr. Michael Heath
Veterinarians not only have to navigate their own feelings about ending an animal's life but also have to manage the emotions of grieving pet owners. It's a role that demands both emotional resilience and empathetic communication, amplifying the stress levels for the professionals involved.
Once the vet confirms that your pet's heart has stopped, there is no possibility of your pet waking up. This is a common concern among pet owners but is unfounded.
Your dog will first become sleepy, then fall unconscious within seconds. Eventually, the heart and breathing will stop. A vet will confirm your pet's passing using a stethoscope. It's common for your pet's eyes to remain open after they pass away.
Your dog might have screamed due to pre-existing pain from a condition like severe arthritis or painful cancer. The pain may have been aggravated during the positioning of the injection.
Yes, some vets do cry during euthanasia. Grief is a natural response because both vets and pet owners love their pets.
Absolutely, your dog knew how much you loved him. The bond between humans and dogs is special and deeply emotional.
Making the difficult decision to euthanize a pet is an emotionally taxing experience that impacts not just pet owners, but also the veterinarians who perform the procedure. Recognizing the behavioral signs in your pet can be crucial to making their final moments as comfortable as possible.
Veterinarians also have emotional investments in these delicate moments, often shouldering the responsibility of ensuring both the pet and the owner are at ease. In light of the complexities and emotional toll of the process, the vet pleads for owners to stay when dogs are put to sleep. Being present during these final moments can offer invaluable comfort to a beloved pet and might even make the experience slightly less painful for everyone involved.