Skip to Content

Did My Dog Know He Was Being Put To Sleep: 6 Causes of Struggle

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 do talk to your vet first to make an informed decision.

In case the quality of life is non-existent, euthanasia might make sense but often, it’s still possible to prevent a dog from being put to sleep just by getting a second opinion.

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.

It doesn’t even have to be the sting from the injection or the solution passing through the dog’s body, it can be as simple as your dog sighting the tools.

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.

Dachshund getting checked by the vet.
Photo by Duet PandG on Shutterstock

That being said, dogs often react to the injection itself.

As the euthanasia solution passes through your dog’s body, they undergo various stages where they may react sensitive 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

Dogs struggle during euthanasia mainly due to general anxiety, pain caused by underlying conditions, failure to properly administer the solution, usage of non-approved sedatives, or reaction to sedatives.

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 often struggle during euthanasia at the vet’s practice due to negative experiences in the past, discomfort when being handled by strangers, or fear of injections.

Pain

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.

Senior Beagle next to a younger Beagle on a grassy field.

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

In cases where the solution isn’t properly administered and isn’t completely going into the vein, your dog may feel that burning sensation.

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 but can escalate into a very serious situation for dogs unfamiliar with that sensation and they seemingly put up a fight.

Non-Approved Sedatives

Sodium Pentobarbital is recommended for euthanizing dogs but some vets choose to administer two injections with a pre-euthanasia sedative injected into the vein or muscle.

The Human Society euthanasia manual outlines two recommended sedatives: PreMix (Xylazine/Ketamine) and Telazol (Tiletamine/Zolazepam).

By the way, the AVMA has a similar resource.

While there’s a risk that your dog reacts to the solution, it’s increased if non-approved sedatives are used.

Some of these are not considered humane at all which is why they should be avoided.

If non-approved ones are used, your dog still doesn’t really know he’s being put to sleep but he’ll experience tremendous fear and the vitals might go through the roof.

Reaction to Sedative or Pentobarbital

Dogs may react to the sting when a sedative is administered, as well as possibly react with spasms, seizures, or strange behaviors such as bobbing their head.

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.

  • 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, and reflexes (including eye blink and toe-pinch) begin to disappear, loss of pain.
  • Medullary Paralysis: Enters brain stem only for euthanasia to depress core functions (breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure)

All this happens in a matter of seconds (5 seconds for unconsciousness, 20 seconds to stop breathing, 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 adverse 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, especially when they see the needle and feel it.

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 leaves every dog owner with a sour taste in their mouth 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 quick 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 (in a bicycle trailer, of course) whereas others choose 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.

Some 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.

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.

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.

About Danielle

I am the founder of PawLeaks where I share weekly tips on dog training and behavior. Sharing a passion for dogs and helping owners to solve problems through understanding canine behavior and modification is my number one goal.