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What is Euthanasia?

Euthanasia, which translates to ‘good death’, is performed in veterinary medicine to relieve pain or suffering. The decision to euthanise a pet is one of the most difficult decisions an owner can make. It can often be tempting to ‘let nature take its course’ and hope that the animal passes peacefully in their sleep, but unfortunately this does not always happen to our pets. Even if a pet is very ill it can take a long time for death to come naturally, and many animals will suffer greatly before passing on their own.


When is the right time?

In general if you are considering euthanasia it is better to perform it sooner rather than later to ensure that there is no unnecessary suffering. Deciding the right time to put a pet to sleep is a very personal decision for you and your family, and is usually done based on the quality of life of the pet. Unfortunately our pets cannot tell us when they feel unwell, so we must look at factors such as:


Demeanour – Does your pet seem to be enjoing life?

Comfort –Do they seem to be in any pain?

Appetite –Are they eating as much as they used to

Mobility –Are they limping? Do they still enjoy walks as they used to?

Continence –Are they having accidents in the house more than they used to?

Mental state –Do they seem confused or upset at times?

Breathing effort –Do they struggle to catch their breath? Are they panting more than usual?


By looking at a combination of these factors you and your vet will be able to assess whether your pet as a good quality of life. In cases where there is a poor quality of life and there is a poor prognosis or no further treatment options available then euthanasia may be appropriate.


The process of euthanasia

Knowing what to expect during euthanasia may make the procedure less stressful for you and your pet. Euthanasia is usually carried out in the veterinary practice, but in some cases if prior notice is given euthanasia can be carried out in your home. If euthanasia is to be performed at the veterinary practice it may be worth bringing a favourite blanket or bed to make them more comfortable during the procedure.


The aim of euthanasia is to allow your pet to pass in a non-stressful, pain-free manner. Every attempt will be made to make you and your pet comfortable regardless of whether it is carried out at home or in the practice.


 The standard euthanasia process is as follows:


1. A nurse will help to hold your pet and assist the vet in giving the injection. If you decide to be present for the procedure you will be able to continue to talk to and comfort your pet.


2. The veterinarian will clip a patch of fur on one of your pet’s legs – usually a front leg – to allow them to find the vein.


3. In some cases a sedative may be given prior to injection in order to prevent distress during the procedure. Most pets do not need to have this done, but your vet may recommend it if your pet becomes anxious or uncomfortable.


4. The vet will inject the euthanasia solution into the vein. The solution contains a drug called pentobarbital, which essentially causes an overdose of anaesthetic meaning that your pet will not be conscious at the time of death. The drug works very quickly, often within seconds, and causes your pet to relax and drift to sleep, at which point the breathing will gradually cease and lastly  the heart will stop. The vet will check your pet’s heart and confirm that he or she has gone.


5. Following euthanasia you will be able to spend a few moments with your pet to say goodbye if you wish.


In some cases the animal may void urine or stools once they have passed. They may occasionally take one last deep breath or twitch once the heart stops. Though it can be shocking if this happens it is important to understand that these are reflexes that can occur despite the lack of a heart beat and should not be interpreted as a sign that your pet is still alive. It is also important to realise that when animals die their eyes typically remain open.

There may be variations in the procedure depending on the age, species, and health of your pet. In rabbits the ear vein is commonly used rather than a leg vein. Rabbits and small furries may be given an anaesthetic in a small gas chamber before the euthanasia solution is given into the abdominal cavity.


Should I be present?

Being present while your pet is euthanased can be an emotionally distressing experience and some people simply cannot face it; others would rather prefer to remember them as they were alive. However there is much to be said for you being present during the euthanasia, and in general we would recommend staying with your pet as long as you feel comfortable doing so. As your pet’s most trusted friend, being there will provide your pet with the maximum amount of comfort possible.



Once your pet has been euthanased, there are a number of different aftercare options and ideally you should choose the one which you feel best preserves the memory of your pet.

Options include:



Here at Avenue Veterinary Centre we use the Lincolnshire Pet Crematorium, a reputable service who we have been using for many years. They are a respectful and caring service who have always provided outstanding care to our clients and their beloved pets. Usually we arrange for your pet to be sent for cremation, but should you prefer you can take your pet their yourself.

There are two options for cremation:


Routine cremation:

This is when your pet is cremated along with other pets. Their ashes will be scattered in the gardens at the Lincolnshire Pet Crematorium, which you are welcome to visit if you should wish to.


Individual cremation:

This is when your pet’s body is cremated individually so that their ashes will be returned to you. There are many different urns, caskets, and scatter boxes which can be chosen from. The crematorium will contact you directly prior to the cremation of your pet, at which point they will confirm what you would like to have your pet’s ashes returned in.


If you wish to arrange to visit the crematorium or would like to take your pet there yourself they can be contacted on



As an alternate to cremation, you can choose to bring your pet with you for home burial following euthanasia. If possible it is best to bring a large blanket or sheet to wrap your pet in during the trip home.


Saying goodbye to your pet is never easy. If there is anything we can do to help you during this difficult time please do not hesitate to contact us on 01476 563371.


Euthanasia and Bereavement