A good death? – this is not at all a contradiction in terms. Do we not owe that to our cats, dogs and other animals? Personally I believe we owe it to our close relatives and friends as well, but perhaps this is not the place for that discussion.
I am not saying this is an easy decision to make in every case, or any case, but in my experience you will know that it certainly is, without doubt, the right thing to do at a certain stage in a dog’s age or infirmity. I find it far more distressing to see dogs “kept going” by their owners for their (the owners’ sakes) when they are suffering than to take the decision to euthanize a much-loved dog, upsetting though it always is, without doubt. Remember to put the welfare of the dog first . . . not yourself.
My advice is always to discuss this subject with your vet whilst your dog is healthy when you are less likely to become upset and more able to make reasoned choices. Ask for any relevant information to be noted in your veterinary records. If you have never witnessed the euthanizing of a dog, the thought of it may well be very distressing for you and you may imagine all sorts of awful things. In addition, these days there are many “urban myths” and horror stories put about by scaremongers online. Do not be worried: naturally you will be upset at losing a well-loved pet, working dog or companion, but the process is very calm and peaceful and painless for the dog. Think about what you are doing for your dog, not about yourself!
Circumstances may dictate that you have the choice of having your dog “put to sleep” at home or at the vet’s surgery. The drugs most often used for this process in dogs are Pentobarbital (a short-acting barbiturate) and Sodium thiopental (a rapid-onset short-acting barbiturate general anaesthetic.) Do not be alarmed that the solution is usually brightly coloured; blue, green or pink; this is in order that it cannot be confused with the concentration of a normal sedative. The syringe of the drug will also look enormous, especially if you have a large dog. It is only the syringe that is large, not the needle . . . the dog will not know.
Slightly out of the normal : if, for whatever medical reason a vein has collapsed or can’t be raised, the injection may be made, after the administration of a sedative, into the heart. This sounds alarming but is no different in its effect and induces no suffering, just like the more common method. If your vet explains this is going to happen ... do not be alarmed, it is not at all unusual.
PLANNING AHEAD : If the euthanasia takes place, or is planned to take place, at home
1. Do you wish the vet to take the body away or do you have the space and desire to bury your dog in your garden. (Always check in advance about any local regulations pertaining to the burial of animals)
2. If the vet is to take the body away, do you wish to have an “individual” cremation (and receive the ashes back to keep, bury or scatter?) This is more expensive of course.
3. If you do not express a wish for an individual cremation, you dog will be cremated with others and you will get back no ashes.
4. As one of my breeds is a giant one, my vet knows that at least two people (depending on their size!) will be required for lifting. This is noted on the dog’s medical record.
5. You may wish to employ the services of a private independent pet burial/cremation/undertaking service (who will collect and deal with the body according to your wishes) – as you also might do if your dog dies a natural death at home. Research these in advance too – use the Yellow pages or search online, there is bound to be at least one company covering your area. You could also aske your vet and other local “dog people” whom you trust.
PLANNING AHEAD : If euthanasia takes place at the veterinary surgery
1. All the above apply to a certain extent.
2. Arrange for you to take your dog’s body away if you are going to bury him or her at home. Ensure that you ask for help at the vet’s end and that you have somebody to assist you when you get home if you don not take a companion to the vet’s surgery. Make sure you are in a suitable vehicle and have a blanket or similar with you.
3. Ensure that the vet is amenable to an independent company collecting the body from their premises if this is what you want to happen.
4. Check with the vet that you can remain during the procedure at the surgery . . if that is what you want to happen.
Further information and explanation can be seen here; it is an informative and sensitively-written page :