What to expect on a home euthanasia visit

Having your pet put to sleep is one of the hardest things that we as pet owners have to go through. Having your pet put to sleep at home, in familiar surroundings can ease the stress on you and your pet.  It is a different process having this performed at home rather than at a veterinary practice.  The key difference is that it is a calm, non-rushed procedure that can take about 45 minutes.

This post goes into a fair amount of detail on what to expect on a visit. Not everyone wants or needs this detail, but a lot of people would like to know what to expect.

Note: Nicola’s wish is that your pet receives a ‘good death’ and that it is as calm and as peaceful as possible.  This process allows the pet to pass away peacefully in their sleep as they are sedated prior to the final injection.

Greeting your pet and paperwork

On arrival our vet Nicola will greet your pet, get them used to her presence and allow them to calm down if they are stressed or excited.  During this time Nicola will have a chat to yourselves about your pet, about their health and perform an examination. Sometimes this examination is short as a full clinical exam is not often needed.

After confirmation that sadly saying goodbye is the right option for your pet, there is a bit of paperwork that needs to be done. This consists of confirming your wishes, a legal consent form for the euthanasia, the cremation order form if cremation is requested.

Two stage process:

1St step: sedation

Once everyone is as ready as they can be, the next step is for Nicola to give an injection of a sedation.  This usually goes into a muscle on the back but can also be done under the skin on the neck.  This sedation injection contains a couple of different medications in one injection, one is to allow your pet to fall fast asleep and another one is a pain relief.  This means your pet will fall asleep (sedation) and not feel any pain.

When your pet is fully sedated they can sometimes twitch, this is nothing to worry about and is normal.  Your pet is in a sleep state.  Nicola has seen many pets snore when in a deep sedation or even dream!  It really is a peaceful way to be.

2nd Step: final injection

Once your pet is fully asleep, Nicola will prepare your pet for the final injection which will help them pass away.  This is the same injection in dogs and cats but can be given in different ways.

Cats: The final injection is often given in the tummy of a cat.  The advantage to this is that the owner is able to hold their cat and cuddle him/her as they pass away.  There are some situations where an injection cannot be given in the tummy, and so is given into the vein similar to a dog.

Dogs:  The final injection is often given into the vein of a front leg.  Nicola will place a tourniquet on the front leg (or sometimes both) to help the vein become raised. An area of fur is shaved on the leg to enable visualisation of the vein and a cannula is placed and secured with some tape.

Once access to the vein has been established, it is time for the final injection.  This is an overdose of an anaesthetic.  It is a slow injection which goes straight into the cannula, into the vein and then travels to the brain.

Whilst the injection is slowly being given, your pet’s breathing will change.  It becomes a bit more rapid initially, then slows and stops.  Remember, this is normal and your pet is asleep, unaware of this and is moving from an asleep state to an anaesthetised state. The injection continues, which causes the breathing to stop completely, the heart will then stop a little while after this and then the brain stops.

Things to expect once they have passed away

As soon as your pet has passed away, they can pass urine or stools.  This is normal and is due to everything becoming relaxed.  Nicola will place an absorbent pad under the back end prior to the final injection to try to catch anything that may be passed.

Your pet can also do a gasp, or sometimes a few.  This is sometimes unnerving to see, but nothing to worry about.  It is a nerve reflex that often occurs at death.

You may notice some fine muscle twitching on the skin of the body or face.  This is again normal.  It is the nerves releasing their final electrical current that they have within them and can go on for a while.

Aftercare of the body

Nicola will allow you as much time as you need to say your goodbyes to your pet in privacy.  It is also advised to let your other pets see that your beloved pet has passed away.  This allows them to start the grieving process, rather than wondering where the pet is and when they are coming home.

There are many options for aftercare and will go into more detail on the next blog post.  In short options include home burial (as long as not near a water source and dug deep enough), cremation with ashes back (individual cremation) or communal cremation, but you will not receive any of the ashes back.  There are lots of memorial options available as well, for example paw prints and fur clippings.