|Understanding the euthanasia process|
To say the least, you are facing a very difficult time. For most American families, pets are an integral part of the family. The idea of seeing them go is very painful and the moments spent discussing the subject and options appear through a blur of tears. The purpose of this article is to lay out the different choices that you have so that you can go over them in your own time, at your own pace.
The In-Hospital Euthanasia
If you choose the avenue of taking your pet to the hospital for euthanasia, first, you may want to ask the hospital staff for an appointment time when it is likely to be more quiet, perhaps at the very beginning of the day or at the very end of the day. Some veterinary hospitals have trained their staff to schedule euthanasias during a quiet time. However, given the unpredictable nature of illness, it is not always possible to predict a hospital’s “quiet” time.
Then, your veterinarian will take your pet to the treatment room and will insert an IV catheter into your pet’s leg to ensure that the final injection is properly administered. Some veterinarians will place the IV in the consultation room with you present, at your request. In some facilities, this may not be possible due to technical reasons (lighting, personal preference, etc...) Some veterinarians prefer to use a direct needle for the injection of the euthanasia solution which does not require the placement of an IV catheter.
The In-Home Euthanasia
The main reason for choosing an in-home euthanasia is that it will be more comfortable for your pet, less stressful and that he or she will have a dignified departure in the comfort of your own home. You and your family will also be able to grieve in the privacy of your own home.
You may download the forms and have them ready ahead of time in order to minimize the technicalities at the time of the visit. Please see the page Pet Euthanasia Forms on this website. If you don't get around to fill out the forms ahead of time, it is fine. We always bring a set of the forms and you may fill them out when the doctor first arrives at your home. They are available on this website strictly for your convenience so that you don't have to be bothered with paperwork at the time of the visit.
Once the preliminary injection has been done (if sedation is warranted), the doctor will insert an IV catheter in your pet's leg so that a secure access to a vein is granted. An IV catheter is not a big IV hook up with a line and bag: it is simply a small needle that gets secured in place on your pet's leg. It is only as painful as the prick of a needle can be. If no sedation is necessary for your pet, the IV catheter will be inserted with your pet lying down comfortably. Depending on your pet's disposition and the level of pain his condition is causing him, sedation may or may not be necessary (see "Use of sedation"). Very rarely, a muzzle may be necessary so that he or she will allow the doctor to give him or her the first injection.
The reason for the IV catheter is that it is important that the final injection goes intravenously and that the needle doesn't slip on the side of the vein because the product can burn if the needle slips. With the IV catheter correctly in place, it is impossible for this to occur and your pet will not have to be held still at the time of the injection. It makes it more peaceful and it makes it possible for you to hold your pet at the final moment.
It takes only a few seconds for the euthanasia solution to take effect. This solution is basically an overdose of anesthetics and causes first complete unconsciousness and then the breathing and heart to stop. It is as painless as being put under anesthesia. Within a few seconds, your pet will be unconscious. It may take a minute or two for the heart to stop. The doctor will listen carefully to your pet's heart to ensure it has stopped before pronouncing him or her gone. After that, there is no danger of your pet waking up. This is a very common fear for pet owners. What if he wakes up a long time after? Have no worries, with the current products used today and the careful auscultation by the veterinarian after the injection, this cannot happen.
Occasionally, some muscle twitches might occur after the death of a pet. In the rare instance that this may occur, be assured that your pet is gone by that time. Pet owners are sometimes startled and upset at the sight of those post-mortem nerve twitches, but please be assured that it is not abnormal and that the pet is actually gone when that occurs. It does not always occur but if it does, I want you to be prepared. Those twitches may rarely include what seems like a deep breath but is, again, only a post-mortem reaction. Another thing to be aware of is that your pet's eyes will likely not close after he has passed away.