Putting a Dog to Sleep | What to Expect when Euthanizing a Dog

Picture of a old dog sleeping

Putting your dog down is an emotional experience, whether it happens when he or she is younger or older. This is something that most pet parents aren’t ready for, at least mentally, and sometimes it can happen so suddenly that it can leave them feeling absolutely baffled. In this article, we will look at some of the reasons you might have to put your dog to sleep at one point, how you can tell whether the decision makes sense or you can still change something, and the actual process and what it entails.

How Can You Know When It Is Time?

If your dog’s health is declining, before you make the decision to euthanize him or her, you have to have an honest talk with a veterinarian. You can also use the HHHHHMM Scale to tell whether the health status of your pet has a negative impact on his or her well-being in a very severe manner. These letters stand for hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more. You can use the scale and grade all of these factors from 0 to 10, but we would suggest doing it separately, which means that both you and your vet will have to do the ratings.

You can also make a list of the things that your dog can still keep doing, despite old age or various medical conditions. Even though many of us know that modern veterinary medicine has evolved to such an extent that it can actively extend a pet’s life these days, it’s not a miracle.

Always be Prepared

Euthanasia is a tragedy, mostly because you have to make a conscious and rational decision to put your dog to sleep. However, it doesn’t mean that you’ll suffer any less if your dog goes through an accident or develops a severely acute disease that’s fatal and that results in his or her death in a time span of just a couple of days.

It is a good idea to keep yourself prepared both mentally and financially for such situations. It is almost impossible to prevent getting attached to your dog, and the more you do it, the more you’ll suffer when your Fido dies, whether this happens sooner or later.

One area where you can be prepared is the financial aspect. If you do not have pet insurance and your dog needs to get surgery to survive, you might end up spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, and that might be money that you don’t have right now. Pet insurance can save you a lot of trouble in this sense and it can also give you the reassurance that if something bad does happen, at least you will be able to provide medical assistance to your canine companion without ending up in debt.

Also when it comes to the matter of being prepared, if you are considering euthanasia for your dog, you have to discuss with your veterinarian and ask him or her as many questions as possible before the procedure takes place. This will help you understand it better and it will also clear up some potential misunderstandings or incorrect information you might have already.

The Process

Both in dogs and in cats, euthanasia is usually performed using two injections. The first is used for profound sedation and the second consists of the drug for the final injection. It all depends on the health status of the dog, after all, but in many cases, the second injection might not even be necessary. For example, if your pet has been hit by a car, is unconscious, has multiple and severe lesions, and your vet says that there is absolutely no chance of saving him, the first injection might be enough for the euthanasia to take place.

The sedation is performed using tranquilizers such as Ketamine, Propofol, Telazon, Acepromazine, or Xylazine, and sometimes two of these can be mixed into a cocktail. Medetomidine is preferred by many veterinarians because it results in pain-relieving sedation and it can be mixed with other substances and opiates. It is well-tolerated but because it is expensive, it is less used in large breeds. In situations where your dog has suffered a stroke and the first injection is slightly overdosed, death can occur almost naturally. This is a pain-free process.

Barbiturates are typically used for the second injection and what they do is to cause cardiac arrest in under half a minute.

The One-injection Versus Two-injection Approach

While we have already noted that typically, most vets will first sedate the dog and then use the actual euthanasia solution, there is another and less pleasant approach, which consists of administering a single injection with a syringe where both substances were mixed. When both the barbiturate and the anesthetic are administered in a single injection, there could be cases where the animal might appear to struggle, which means that this method is considered inhumane. On the other hand, it is an option for comatose animals that virtually have no way of responding to any stimuli.

The two-injection approach is always to be preferred even if you have to wait for a little more time for everything to end. By the way, euthanasia typically takes under fifteen minutes no matter what substances have been used. If they are administered intravenously, both the anesthetic and the barbiturate will have an effect in a matter of seconds. However, it is important to note that the amount of time depends on your dog’s health and the substances that were used. To make sure that your veterinarian chooses the two-injection procedure, you have to be clear and tell them that you want them to follow the Humane Euthanasia Protocol.

At Home or the Vet Clinic

Even though euthanasia is typically performed at a clinic because the veterinarian benefits from a wide array of medical substances and equipment that can help them manage any type of unexpected issue, some people decide to put their dog to sleep at home. This can be done in several situations, such as when your dog is too large or immobile and can’t be transported to the vet’s office. Your dog could also be very anxious about taking a trip to the vet clinic or maybe you feel that you will be able to handle the situation far better if you are at home. You won’t have to drive while you’re trying to manage a high degree of emotional distress following the process, if it happens at the vet’s office. Do keep in mind that at-home procedures cost a lot more compared to those that take place at the clinic.

If your dog is mobile enough and you can transport him or her to the vet’s office, if you’d prefer a neutral location, or if you want to rest assured that the medical professional has absolutely everything that might be needed for the procedure, you can choose the other option and therefore, euthanize your dog at the clinic.

After the Euthanasia

Your vet will tell you that your dog has passed on and will monitor his or her heartbeat after the injections were administered. You might be given some time with your canine companion in order to say goodbye. You can also choose not to be present for the procedure, but many pet parents decide to remain in the company of their trusted canine friends until the end so as to give them the comfort they might require. Besides, many vets believe that no animal should die alone.

The body of a dog that has been put to sleep starts going through changes rather soon, and what will happen largely resembles what happens in people that have died. If you decide to stay several hours with your dog after he or she was put down, beware that you might notice that the body will start releasing urine and feces. Your dog’s eyes will remain open after the procedure.

You can decide what to do with the body. Some veterinarians have contracts with services that specialize in cremating pets’ bodies, so there’s that option to take into account. You can also choose to take the body home and bury it in a special place, but do keep in mind that this can be illegal in some regions. If you choose cremation, your dog’s collar and tags will be returned to you so at least you get to keep them as a memorial touch.


We noted earlier that being prepared financially can be a good idea, and that’s because pet euthanasia isn’t the cheapest of procedures. Euthanization can cost anywhere between $100 and $400 or more depending on a variety of factors ranging from the type you choose (whether it’s at home or at the clinic) and if you are known to be a low-income pet owner, for example. Cremation can cost around $100 for dogs that are no heavier than 80 pounds and $200 or more for dogs that are over 100 pounds in weight. Private cremation is more expensive while communal cremation is cheaper, but with the second, you don’t get to keep the pet’s ashes.

Even though talking about money can seem downright insensitive when it comes to putting a dog down, these figures matter a lot for all dog parents.

Final thoughts

One of the most important things to avoid after you have put your dog to sleep is not to go out and immediately adopt another dog. Needless to say, a pet parent that has had to put down his or her dog is not in the right emotional state to bring the new pooch into a good place, one filled with positive energy.

While some people can get over euthanizing their pets in less time than others, they all have to focus on the positive things. After all, you did have the privilege to spend some time in the company of your wonderful dog, so use those memories to soothe yourself. If you feel like your dog’s toys, bowls, food, leash or anything else keep bringing back the negative experience of euthanasia to your mind, just put them away in a closet or donate them to a shelter. If, after a while, you decide to get a new dog, you can just buy new things and start over.

Because people who don’t have any pets might not have the necessary empathy to understand and relate to what you’re going through, you might have to avoid detailing to them what happened. Sometimes, they might not be able to understand that losing a pet is just like losing a family member or a very close friend. Don’t take it personally – they just don’t know how much pets can mean to some people.

Giving another dog a second chance can be a tribute that you can pay to a dog that has passed, and once you are in a positive place again, you can consider that.



One Response

  1. It was helpful when you said to be financially ready for the situation. My mom was talking to me on the phone last night about how our family dog has been getting pretty sick for the past couple of weeks, and since she’s very old, she was wondering if euthanization would be best. I’ll pass this information along to her so she can know how to prepare for putting her to sleep.

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