Filed Under: Dogs, Cats, Reptiles, Horses, General Care, Pigs, Birds

One of the most difficult decisions an animal owner will ever make is when to euthanize a pet. Most owners want to do what is right for their pet and will agonize over the decision whether to euthanize or not. The only criterion that should be used in this difficult decision is if the quality of life is good enough to justify the quantity of life. With people, we do not have the luxury of keeping them from going through those last agonizing moments of life. We are kinder to animals. We can exempt pets from excruciating pain, the anxiety of body processes shutting down without our control, and agonal moments gasping for breath. Another time to consider euthanasia is in the event that an individual loses sensory input and the pet’s mind falls into the mindless abyss of advanced cognitive dysfunction. When the quality of life is nil, the resolve to euthanize comes easily.

The family, in close conjunction with the attending veterinarian, should make the decision to euthanize. A veterinarian may help determine the quality of life present, but in the end the owner must decide what is right for their particular situation. A pet will often be more animated when not in familiar surroundings such as a veterinary clinic. The deciding factor should be how the pet is doing in the home environment and not how they react to stress when out of the home. A pet under stress may suddenly become more animated and alert, due to fear.

Once the decision to euthanize has been finalized and all family members have said their good-byes, it is up to each individual family member whether or not to be present during the euthanasia process. Most veterinarians will allow owners to be in attendance if they so choose. The veterinarian may decide to give a tranquilizer or sedative to the pet while family members are still present. Depending on the sedative used, the pet may then fall asleep in the owner’s arms, typically taking from five to ten minutes. Once the pet is no longer conscious, it is again up to the owner to decide whether it is best for them to continue. I strongly suggest that young children exit at this point or earlier after all good-byes are made. Following sedation the pet will no longer be cognitive of whether the owner is present or not. Some owners will find it is easier to exit at this point. Those owners who wish to endure the final stages of the euthanasia process may hold their sedated pet or stroke and talk to the larger pets while euthanasia solution is administered. Pets at this point are not even aware that an injection is being made. Euthanasia solution is typically an overdose of a barbiturate which is administered intravenously (through a vein).

The administration of the euthanasia solution typically takes less than a minute to stop the heart. In cases of heart failure or poor circulation, the length of the euthanasia procedure may be slightly prolonged. Typically, respiration slows and you may notice a sigh or cry. In some instances you may see some muscle fasciculation or one or two breaths even after the heart has stopped. While all the body systems are shutting down, urination or defecation may occur as death ensues.

Although your pet has exited this life at that point, they will always live on in our hearts and minds. Two wonderful poems from unknown authors follow to help with the grieving process.

Please remember that other four-legged family members will also grieve for the lost individual and may need your loving support. Grieving is a normal part of life. Unfortunately very few of us escape this life without losing a significant other.

Grief councilors may be reached at various phone numbers found in Pet Hotlines.


When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water, and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals that had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remembered them in our dreams of days and times gone by.

The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.


If it should be that I grow frail and weak,
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done?
For this – the last battle – can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hands,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.

We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so,
When the time comes, please let me go.
Take me to where my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me until the end
And hold me firm and speak to me,
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time you will agree,
It is a kindness you do for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you,
Who has to decide this thing you do.
We’ve been so close – we two – these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

—Author Unknown

Similar entries

  • The day had been rather routine and uneventful, at least until the off-duty police officer walked in. I was suddenly presented with a brindle boxer puppy all of 18 weeks old named Ruth. She was carrying her left rear leg and we could see the intense pain in her face, yet her whole back end shook as she tried to shake her nub of a tail to greet you.

  • My next client was an off-duty police officer with a brindle boxer puppy in his arms. She was all of 18 weeks old and her name was Ruth. He placed her on the exam table making the diagnosis apparent immediately, for she was carrying her left rear leg. I could see the intense pain on her face as the distal segment of the fractured leg freely swayed anytime she moved. Yet despite the pain, Ruth’s whole backend shook and shimmied as she tried to wag her nub of a tail to greet you.

  • Rabbits—social, playful and active—can be wonderful pets, as long as you know what to expect from them, and how to take care of them.

  • In a natural environment the dog is a pack animal. When we bring a puppy into a human family the puppy naturally becomes part of a new pack—his adoptive human family. Unfortunately, the modern family is always on the go, and the new puppy is often left alone for long periods of time. It's unnatural for a dog to be isolated from his pack. The stress associated with isolation from the nuclear family can lead to a syndrome described as "Separation Anxiety."

  • More pet owners pay attention to dental health than ever before. Dog owners now commonly brush their canine companions’ teeth--and fret over bad breath. But this isn't just an aesthetic interest: all dog owners should be aware of the importance of dentistry to our pets' overall health.