Putting your dog to sleep is an incredibly hard decision and we’re often left wondering what dogs experience in these last moments.
If you’re about to make a decision on whether or not to put your dog to sleep, please talk to your vet first to make an informed decision.
In case the quality of life is extremely low, euthanasia might make sense but treatment is often possible, that’s partly why seeking a second opinion can be crucial.
However, if your dog was already euthanized or there’s just no sliver of hope, you’ll probably want to know what your canine will feel.
Did My Dog Know He Was Being Put To Sleep?
Dogs do not know they are being put to sleep, but they can react to underlying pain when being handled by the vet, sense nervous energy, react to the injection, involuntarily vocalize, or have muscle spasms.
A dog has no way of knowing that euthanasia is about to happen as the concept of ending a life by injection is not known to canines.
What happens most often is that dog owners think their dog knows he’s being put to sleep because they react to the pain caused by their underlying condition.
Nervous energy emanating from your dog can also be observed if your dog generally dislikes the vet.
Canines who dislike injections particularly might seem incredibly fearful after sighting one.
Furthermore, dogs might also feel the nervous energy of their owners.
Euthanizing a beloved furry family member is certainly one of the most emotional days in the life of many dog owners.
This negative association with the vet or injections might then be interpreted by a dog owner as a dog knowing he was being put to sleep when they, in fact, just reacted negatively to stimuli.
That being said, dogs can react to the injection itself.
As the euthanasia solution passes through your dog’s body, they undergo various stages where they may react sensitively to noise or touch, paddle with the legs, or even vocalize.
Vocalization is often misinterpreted as a sign of the dog knowing that he is being put to sleep when it is nothing more than an involuntary response.
All this happens within seconds and your dog is quickly unconscious.
While dogs don’t know they’re being put to sleep, it can be argued that they do have a sense of when their last days have arrived.
This is commonly seen when dogs behave strangely before dying.
Dog Struggled During Euthanasia: 6 Reasons
During euthanasia, dogs react mainly to general anxiety, pain caused by underlying disease, brief injection site pain, and sedatives. They can also involuntarily react to the euthanasia solution.
To avoid your dog struggling during euthanasia, there are a few things you can do.
However, if everything is done properly and a dog is vocalizing or twitching, it might be nothing to worry about if it happens after the injection was given and the dog is already unconscious.
Anxious at Vet
Dogs sometimes struggle in the beginning steps of euthanasia due to being afraid of the vet’s office, discomfort when being handled by unfamiliar people, or brief pain from the needle poke into a vein.
Tip: If your dog tends to be nervous at the vet, there are a growing number of at-home euthanasia services. In that case, the vet will come to your home and perform the euthanasia in your dog’s home environment where they are surrounded by comforting people, sights, and smells.
If your dog had an underlying condition, chances are high that your pet struggles during euthanasia due to that medical issue.
Dogs with arthritis or cancer can sometimes have difficulty moving, let alone being handled.
Many owners interpret the last whelp or pleading puppy eyes as a cry for help but it’s usually just a reaction to the pain you’re trying to shield them from.
Pain as a cause would be known to the owner beforehand and is often the reason euthanasia is considered in the first place.
Veins Hard To Find
Veins that are hard to find due to dehydration, low blood pressure, or simply constricted veins in seniors can cause your vet to repeatedly poke the same area again and again.
While this shouldn’t happen with an experienced vet, some dogs’ veins are just harder to pin down than others.
A squirming and wiggling dog aggravates the situation which is why it’s always best to talk to your vet if you know about a potential issue with your dog’s veins.
Solution Not Properly Administered
Most of the time, before euthanasia the vet will use a needle to place a catheter in the front leg vein. The catheter is a soft tube that allows the sedative and euthanasia solution to be administered without more needle pokes.
Sometimes the catheter can touch the side of the inside wall of the vein and be uncomfortable, or the tape used to secure it can pull on a piece of fur.
Tell the vet if you’re worried that your dog’s catheter site is uncomfortable for them.
Another possibility is that your dog simply feels the solution entering the veins due to the difference in temperature.
This feeling is comparable to what humans feel with IV fluid.
If your dog seems distressed, remember that there is no rush when it comes to euthanasia. The vet will not move forward with euthanasia if the dog is seriously distressed.
The euthanasia solution is the last step after sedation to make the dog more comfortable and relaxed, so it is not “too late” to pause and wait for the dog to calm down during the sedation or catheter placement phase in the rare case they are extremely upset.
In cases where the solution isn’t properly administered and isn’t completely going into the vein, your dog may feel a burning sensation, but vets and vet techs are trained to make sure the catheter is correctly placed.
Sodium Pentobarbital is currently recommended for euthanizing dogs but some vets choose to administer two injections with a pre-euthanasia sedative injected into the vein or muscle.
The Humane Society euthanasia manual outlines two recommended sedatives: PreMix (Xylazine/Ketamine) and Telazol (Tiletamine/Zolazepam).
By the way, the AVMA has a similar resource.
The usual steps for euthanasia are shaving and cleaning the injection site on the dog’s leg, placing a venous catheter, giving a sedative through the catheter, and waiting a few minutes for the dog to relax and become sleepy.
Only after these steps and giving you time to say goodbye will the vet administer the euthanasia solution that results in death.
While there’s a risk that your dog reacts to the solution, it’s increased if non-approved sedatives are used.
If non-approved ones are used, your dog still doesn’t really know he’s being put to sleep but he may experience tremendous fear and the vitals might go through the roof.
This is unlikely to happen with a licensed vet but can happen in developing countries or when done at home without veterinary supervision (which should never be done).
Reaction to Sedative or Pentobarbital
Dogs may react to the sting of the initial needle poke for placing a catheter, but the sedative and euthanasia solutions do not sting or cause pain by themselves.
Your dog may briefly react with small involuntary spasms or strange behaviors such as bobbing their head or paddling their legs. These behaviors can be distressing to watch, but the dog is not conscious of them.
Sodium Pentobarbital is most commonly used across the USA and can be paired with a pre-euthanasia sedative.
After administering, there are a couple of stages your dog will go through.
Giving sedation before the euthanasia solution helps make the first phase more comfortable for the dog.
- Voluntary Excitement: The dog begins to lose consciousness, coordination, and ability to feel pain (deep pain is still possible) and may react sensitively to stimuli such as noise or touch.
- Involuntary Excitement: Moves through the cerebral cortex into the cerebrum where it may cause uncontrolled motor activity like paddling of the legs and vocalizations.
- Surgical Anesthesia: Inability to respond to visual or auditory stimuli. Reflexes (including eye blink and toe-pinch) begin to disappear, loss of pain.
- Medullary Paralysis: Enters brain stem as euthanasia depresses core functions (breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure)
All this happens in a matter of seconds (5 seconds for unconsciousness, 20 seconds to stop breathing, and 40 to be declared “medically dead”).
The untrained eye probably won’t even recognize the progression from stage to stage as “clinical death” is achieved within 2 minutes.
Muscle twitching can still happen but if everything worked properly, it is not a sign of your dog struggling during euthanasia.
Discuss with your vet beforehand what specifically will be used and why.
Why Did My Dog Yelp During Euthanasia?
Dogs can yelp during euthanasia due to pain when being handled, the needle pinching them, or involuntary reactions to the sedatives.
Pain during handling mostly occurs with pre-existing conditions.
Similarly, dogs who have been afraid around the vet their whole life will not react differently now, and the quick pinch of placing a vein catheter can temporarily raise their fear.
Some dogs just yelp due to the feeling of having the sedative administered, whereas others have a truly adverse reaction to that specific sedative.
Horror stories of your dog struggling vehemently and screaming do happen but they’re rare.
However, the fact that not all cases get wrapped up with a thorough explanation may leave some affected dog owners with a sour taste in their mouths when going in to have their pet euthanized.
To minimize all risks, check the possible causes of dogs struggling during euthanasia above, choose a vet you trust, and discuss the process thoroughly.
Do not ever hesitate to ask your vet a question, especially if it’s in regard to your beloved pet’s passing.
Putting My Dog Down Tomorrow How Do I Say Goodbye
If you’re planning to put your dog down due to extreme suffering, you can make sure they have an amazing last day and stay with them during the euthanasia process, possibly in your own home.
What you’ll do during your dog’s last day really comes down to what he or she liked doing most and what they’re able to do.
Some take their arthritic senior on a bike ride (usually in a bicycle trailer) whereas others choose a trip to the ocean.
It can be anything your dog loves and an extravagant meal is also possible.
Some dog owners decide to feed their canines something “unhealthy” they usually wouldn’t give their dog and while that’s up to you, it may not be the best solution if you know your dog might get an upset stomach or even vomit.
Whether or not you’re holding your pet in your arms during euthanasia is also up to you.
Many dog owners prefer to be there for their dog’s last breaths and to reassure them while others feel like they’re too upset and that their dog would sense the sadness.
It’s okay to be extremely sad or cry in front of your dog during euthanasia. Your presence will reassure them and help them feel calm even if you are upset.
If you’re anxious about the euthanasia not going smoothly these feelings may transfer to your dog, however. It’s okay to wait outside the room briefly and then come back after the catheter placement and sedative. Your dog will still recognize you by smell even if they are very sleepy keep their eyes closed.
Personally, I will want to be there for my Rottie if I ever have to make that decision.
Do what you think is best for your wonderful pet but keep in mind that they’d probably stick around for you no matter what.
Discuss everything with your vet beforehand and, if possible, choose at-home euthanasia. This way, you might be able to ease the pain of losing a family member and ensure a safe passing.Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.