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The procedure for dog euthanasia

The hardest decision that many dog owners have to face is when a much loved dog ceases to maintain a quality of life and euthanasia is the kindest option.  This is not a choice that has to be faced by the owner or family alone but one that a vet will initially recommend having determined that neither medical nor surgical procedures will alleviate the inevitable suffering ahead.  No vet will make this recommendation lightly and ultimately it is the owner’s choice but it can be guaranteed that once the decision is made, the owner will be given the full support ofa d the vet.  Most veterinary staff will have witnessed the procedure of euthanasia many times, however, the death of an animal is always met with sadness in a surgery and staff will treat the bereaved with kindness and sensitivity.

Euthanasia rarely has to be a snap decision and in the case of long term disease a client may be advised several months in advance of the possible outcome.  Even if the appropriate time is imminent, a vet will generally allow a client to take their pet home to think about the options carefully.  A more immediate decision may have to be made when a vet during surgery discovers a condition that is inoperable and, under these circumstances,  he will generally offer the client a choice of bringing the animal round prior to euthanasia or allowing the pet to slip away peacefully under anaesthetic.  In a few instants such as severe trauma it may be kinder to ‘put an animal to sleep’ without delay.

Prior to the pet being euthanased, the owner will be asked how he wishes to dispose of the body.  To be confronted with the various options at this point can be very distressing and, although it may appear maudlin, it might be advisable to give this matter consideration when a dog is fit and healthy.

The options are:
• To take the pet’s body home for burial
• To have a communal cremation with other pets
• To have a sole cremation and collect the ashes in a suitable cask 10-14 days later

When the time comes, a client will be offered the choice to remain with the dog during the procedure, to leave the room and return after the pet has died, or simply to leave the surgery.  Each individual deals with death in a different way and whatever the owner wishes will be respected.   When children are involved, it will be the decision of the parents and the vet whether a child should remain present at the time of death but it is recommended that a child should be allowed to see the body afterwards, if that is their wish. 

The procedure for euthanasia is similar to that of a general anaesthetic and is quick and painless.  A nurse will restrain the patient but most vets will suggest that the owner comforts the pet and strokes its head while being ‘put to sleep’.  Commonly the surgeon will insert a needle into the cephalic vein that runs down the front of the patient’s foreleg and the drug is administered via the syringe into the bloodstream.  The effect is almost immediate.   Occasionally it may be necessary to tranquillise a dog that is very anxious prior to euthanasia but the veterinary staff will ensure that the entire procedure is carried out in a relaxed and calm manner.  In cases where there may be a potential difficulty in inserting a needle into the cephalic vein, such as when there is poor blood pressure, the drug may have to be administered via a different route.  If this is the case, the vet may advise the client to leave the room as the procedure may take a little longer.  Once the animal is pronounced dead, the owner will be allowed to remain with the body for a time, if that is their wish.

For those people that have to make this difficult decision in the future, it is worth remembering that to relieve a dog of suffering is the final and most caring gesture anyone can make for their pet in return for all the pleasure it has given during its lifetime. 

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