Euthanasia in Dogs - What to Expect

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. April 19, 2022
Euthanasia in Dogs - What to Expect

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Euthanasia is a veterinary procedure in which the death of an animal is brought about by non-cruel and painless methods in order to avoid the suffering associated with an incurable disease. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult decisions for both veterinarians and caretakers, because it means accepting death as the best option. Knowing and understanding both the medical and ethical perspectives is key to going through this process.

In the following AnimalWised article, we will provide you with all the information you need regarding dog euthanasia, so that you can understand the process better.

You may also be interested in: What to Expect After Your Dog is Neutered


  1. What is euthanasia in dogs?
  2. Types of euthanasia
  3. How does euthanasia work?
  4. Is euthanasia painful for dogs?
  5. How to say good bye to your dog
  6. What are the conditions for euthanasia?
  7. How to deal with the death of your dog

What is euthanasia in dogs?

Euthanasia refers to the act of killing an animal to avoid suffering or pain associated with an incurable disease or disorder that severely limits its quality of life. From this fact, we can deduce two key aspects of euthanasia:

  • There is no prospect of cure.
  • There is no suffering or pain in an appropriate death.

If these two conditions are not met, the death is not considered euthanasia, but sacrifice instead.

Types of euthanasia

Euthanasia in dogs can be performed in two different ways:

  • Active euthanasia: is when death is brought about by an act, for example, when an animal is killed by being given a specific drug with this purpose.

  • Passive euthanasia: occurs when death is brought about by an omission, that is, when someone allows the animal to die. This can be done by withdrawing or refusing treatment.

Both types of euthanasia have the same result: the death of the animal. However, we should point out that when we refer to euthanasia, we generally mean active euthanasia.

How does euthanasia work?

When it comes to passive euthanasia, the approach is simple. Any treatment intended to prolong the animal's life is discontinued, and only those drugs necessary to alleviate the animal's suffering are kept until the animal dies.

In the case of active euthanasia, the procedure must be carried out in 3 phases:

  1. Sedation: In this phase, an injection is administered (usually intramuscularly) to sedate the animal. The consciousness of the animal decreases in this first phase, but it still perceives everything that is going on around it. The main goal of this phase is to relax your pet.

  2. General anesthesia: In this second phase, an intravenous catheter is placed and a drug (typically propofol) is administered to induce general anesthesia, as it would be for surgery. After the second injection, your dog will be put into a deep state of anesthesia, meaning they will no longer be able to perceive any stimuli. From this point on, your dog will be unable to sense anything.

  3. Euthanasia: Finally, the euthanasia drug is administered, which causes cardiac arrest within a few seconds. This drug can be administered in a variety of ways (intravenous, inhalation, intraperitoneal, intracardiac, etc.). Most commonly, it is administered intravenously because the animal already has a catheter. As a precaution, we would like to clarify that sphincter relaxation or muscle spasms may occur. However, you should know that these are normal reactions and do not indicate that the animal is suffering.

The effect of euthanasia on a dog takes a few minutes, with active euthanasia by injection. Passive euthanasia is practiced differently depending on the dog.

Euthanasia in Dogs - What to Expect - How does euthanasia work?

Is euthanasia painful for dogs?

One of the most important questions that caregivers face in this situation is whether dogs suffer when euthanasia is performed. However, if euthanasia is performed properly, dogs do not suffer at all. By law, euthanasia must provide a painless and non-cruel death. If the procedure is performed as described in the previous section, death will be quick and painless. In some cases, your pet may move his/her legs or head a few times or breathe deeply after the drug is administered, but these are reflexes and do not mean your pe is in pain or suffering.

How to say good bye to your dog

The act of saying goodbye is an important step in dealing with the natural and healthy feelings of grief and sorrow after the loss of a beloved friend and companion. In most veterinary centers, you should be able to stay with your dog throughout the entire process if you choose to do so. Even though your dog is sedated during the first phase, they can still sense your presence.

Some pet owners decide to be present when their pet is euthanized, while others decide to say goodbye beforehand and not be present at the euthanasia. This is a very personal decision. Do not let others pressure you into making a decision that makes you uncomfortable. You should do what feels right to you.

Euthanasia in Dogs - What to Expect - How to say good bye to your dog

What are the conditions for euthanasia?

Euthanasia of a beloved pet is a difficult and solemn occasion for everyone involved. It is difficult to determine when the time is right to end your dog's suffering and put them down.

Both the veterinarian and the animal's caretaker are involved in the decision. Your veterinarian will examine and evaluate the dog's condition, assess the chances of recovery, and discuss possible disabilities, special needs, and long-term problems. However, the dog's caregiver has the final say. That's why it's so important that the caregiver is fully informed about the dog's condition, the medical and surgical options available, and the risks and possible consequences.

There is no doubt that euthanasia is a complex decision involving many factors. However, there is a process for making decisions that can be very helpful.

  1. Is the animal able to maintain a quality of life that is acceptable?

  2. Are there realistic alternatives (therapeutic, technical, physical, and economic) to ensure the animal's well-being?

  3. In the event that the caregiver is unable to provide the animal with the care and treatment they require, is there a home that is willing to adopt the dog and has the ability to care for it?

  4. Does the animal have more good days than bad days?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, euthanasia is a good alternative. You should not only think of your pet's well-being, but also that of your family. Quality of life is important for pets and people alike.

How to deal with the death of your dog

The loss of a loved one always causes grief. The loyalty, faithfulness and unconditional love our pets give us make their loss especially painful. The time they spend with us makes them our life companions, they become a part of our routine, and they share with us many experiences, so when they are no longer with us, their absence is greatly felt.

Grief is different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. During this phase, you can express your pain as you need to and seek comfort from people who understand the situation you are going through.

Remember the good times you had with your dog, and know that your pet would thank you for relieving its suffering.

You can learn more about how to deal with the death of your pet by reading this article.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Euthanasia in Dogs - What to Expect, we recommend you visit our Prevention category.

  • Association of Spanish Veterinary Specialists in Small Animals (AVEPA). Euthanasia: a complex clinical act.
  • Law 4/2016, of July 22, on the Protection of Companion Animals of the Community of Madrid. BOCM no. 190.
  • World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Euthanasia methods for dogs and cats: comparison and recommendations .

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Euthanasia in Dogs - What to Expect