Serving Nebraska and Iowa

As your pet begins to experience more bad days than good and their quality of life takes a turn for the worse, you likely need to consider humane euthanasia. Many pet owners waver between helping their beloved pet pass peacefully through euthanasia or letting nature take its course. If you don’t clearly understand the euthanasia process and are uncertain about the best time to let a pet go, you may become indecisive and worried. Therefore, our Nebraska Pet Hospice team wants to guide pet owners through this incredibly difficult journey by explaining every step of the euthanasia process.

How is an in-home pet euthanasia prepared?

When you choose an in-home euthanasia for your pet, you allow them to pass in peace in the comfort and familiarity of their own home. Spend the day preparing by setting up your pet’s coziest bed and blanket, lining it with their favorite toys, and spoiling them with typically off-limits treats. If your pet feels up to socializing and has beloved friends and family who wish to be present in their final moments, feel free to invite them to visit. 

When you prepare for an in-home euthanasia, every decision is yours, from the location to the people present. Our team will never rush you as you plan every detail to ensure your pet passes in peace, but we are always willing to offer guidance and suggestions based on our experience.

What medications are used for pet euthanasia?

Once the location has been prepared and your pet is comfortable, we will administer a combination of anesthetic medications to ensure the process goes smoothly and your pet’s discomfort or anxiety is alleviated. These medications are typically administered into a muscle or under the skin and can take from 5 to 20 minutes before they are effective. Your pet’s anxiety, discomfort, body condition, and overall health status play a large role in determining how quickly they will become relaxed, comfortable, and sleepy.

The euthanasia solution is typically a barbiturate, which is the same class of drugs sometimes used for general anesthesia. The solution is typically given at a much higher dose than for general anesthesia and serves to suppress and ultimately stop all bodily functions.

What may happen during pet euthanasia?

The most unpleasant time for a pet during the euthanasia process is the initial sedative injection, although the needle prick is quickly forgotten once they relax and become sleepy. Your pet will likely want to lie down on their plush bed or cuddle in your arms or on your lap as they fall asleep. 

Once your pet is fully unconscious—and you are ready—we proceed with the euthanasia solution. The drug will cause your pet’s brain function to slow and then cease, followed by cessation of breathing and heart function. 

Your pet will not feel anything during the entire euthanasia process, but they may have involuntary reflexes and muscle contractions that can be startling. You may observe:

  • Muscle twitching or spasms
  • Limb movement
  • Vocalization
  • Deep breaths

Again, keep in mind that euthanasia is a similar process to general anesthesia, so your pet may make unusual sounds or movements as they lose consciousness and sensation. During the euthanasia process, the most unsettling action you may notice is agonal breathing (i.e., deep breaths), which is the body’s reflexive response to carbon dioxide buildup and is produced through involuntary muscle contractions. While your pet may appear to be breathing, there is no conscious effort that causes these “breaths,” which do not oxygenate the body. They are simply a reflex that may occur as the body winds down. 

What may happen after a pet has been euthanized?

Once cardiovascular and respiratory function cease, the muscles relax, which may result in urination, defecation, and the release of gas from the lungs or intestinal tract. Your pet’s eyes will appear glazed and will remain open, although the third eyelids may cover a portion of the eyes. Although these changes and actions may startle you, your pet will become unaware after the initial injection.

“Like all vets, I hated doing this, painless though it was, but to me there has always been a comfort in the knowledge that the last thing these helpless animals knew was the sound of a friendly voice and the touch of a gentle hand.” 

     – James Herriot in All Things Wise and Wonderful

We understand the difficulty of making decisions concerning your pet’s end-of-life care, so lean on our Nebraska Pet Hospice team for guidance and support. To discuss questions about our in-home euthanasia or aftercare services, contact our compassionate team for additional information.