Dog Euthanization Process Explained

My friend Kristie has some good advice to help you prepare for your dog’s last days. This is something you should read and prep yourself for long before the time has come. That way, you’ll be better prepared to handle it when the time does come. (Kristie’s been through it 7 times with her own dogs over the years.)

And I’ve written before about how to know when it’s time to euthanize your dog. It’s a process that I’ve had to go through more times than I’d like to admit — and it never gets any easier.

Now, I’m going to help you understand what the actual process of dog euthanization is like — from the perspective of someone who’s been through it several times with her own dogs and who’s also learned a lot while working in a vet’s office.

Before that day comes when your dog needs to be humanely euthanized, you first need to decide exactly how you want the process to go…

Do You Want To Be There While Your Dog Is Being Put To Sleep?

Personally, I felt strongly that since I was with my dogs from the beginning — I definitely wanted to be with them at the end. Through the good times… and bad.

I have always been there when each of my dogs was put to sleep.

I wouldn’t have it any other way — for my dog’s comfort level and my own peace of mind. I can’t imagine my companion of so many years being in a strange, cold environment… not knowing what to expect, and alone.

But some may simply not want to remember their dog’s last moments in that way. If that’s you, don’t feel bad about it. The process is rather quick when the dog’s owners are not present.

Do You Want It To Take Place At Home Or At The Vet’s Office?

You will also need to decide whether you want your dog to be put to sleep in your home or at the vet’s office.

With my 14-year-old Lab (named Tenor), my first thought was… “At home. Of course! What dog owner wouldn’t want that? It’s so convenient and it would be nice for the dog to be in their own familiar surroundings.”

But then my husband reminded me that we would always be thinking, “He was put to sleep right there.” That’s a memory (and feeling) you can’t forget. How much do you want to be reminded of that on a daily basis?

Another example… a friend of ours told us her cat died unexpectedly and they found him in the guest bedroom. To this day, she can’t go into that guest bedroom.

So yeah, that’s a feeling I didn’t want to have in my own home. I’ve always opted for doing it at the veterinarian’s office.

By the way, my husband was right… On my dog’s last day, there was a place along the way to the veterinarian’s office that we stopped to let our dog use the bathroom. And to this day, I always get a weird feeling and a sad memory when I drive by that spot.

What The Process Of Euthanizing A Dog Is Like

Whether you choose to have your dog euthanized at home or at the vet’s office, what happens when a dog is euthanized is the same each way.

And you should have no fear… because it is a calm and peaceful process for your dog. The veterinarians and their assistants are trained to make you and your dog feel at ease the entire time.

One valuable thing I’ve learned from my veterinarian friends is this: It’s best when the veterinarian gives your dog a sedation drug first (as a shot). The sedative helps your dog have a gentle transition from consciousness to unconsciousness. So they simply feel like they are falling into a deeper and deeper sleep.

Without the sedation drug being administered first, the process of your dog’s body shutting down may cause the dog to suddenly jerk or gasp — which can be scary for your dog to experience and unsettling for you to see.

Your veterinarian may give your pet an injection of anesthetic or sedative before the injection of sodium penobarbital. This is most often done in pets that are not likely to hold still for the IV injection. An anesthetic or sedative injection is usually given in the rear leg muscle and will take effect in about 5 to 10 minutes. Your pet will become very drowsy or unconscious, allowing the veterinarian to more easily perform the IV injection.

~American Humane

It can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes for the sedation drug to work.

Basically, these are your final moments with your dog awake. The dog is 100% content… and aware that you are there (at first).

TIP: Be sure to take off your dog’s collar during this time — unless you intend on burying your dog with their collar on. (We had our dog cremated, and then they spread his ashes on the farm.)

Soon, their breathing slows… their tongue hangs out because there isn’t the urge to swallow… and they basically fall asleep and are no longer aware of what’s going on around them.

Your dog's tongue during the euthanasia process is a good gauge of the dog's sedation level. You will know when your dog is completely out of it because their tongue sticks out, due to losing the urge to swallow.

Then, you can pretty much spend as much time as you wish saying your final goodbye.

At which point the veterinarian will give your dog the shot that stops your dog’s heart.

Here, the veterinarian is administering the shot that stops the dog's heart. Your dog is not aware of any of this.

Your dog cannot feel this happening — because the sedation drug has done its job and your dog is in la-la-land.

Your veterinarian will give your pet an overdose of an anesthetic drug called sodium pentobarbital, which quickly causes unconsciousness and then gently stops the heartbeat. Your veterinarian will draw the correct dose of the drug into a syringe and then inject it into a vein. In dogs, the front leg is most commonly used. In cats, either the front or rear leg may be used. The injection itself is not painful to your pet … Once the IV injection of sodium pentobarbitol is given, your pet will become completely unconscious within a few seconds, and death will occur within a few minutes or less.

~American Humane

TIP: Don’t forget to take your dog’s favorite toy (or blanket) with you to the vet. I took my dog’s favorite dolphin toy to give him something to lay with that he was familiar with — and I think it helped him feel more at ease in a cold room on the floor at the vet’s office.

How Much Does It Cost To Euthanize A Dog?

Now that you know what happens when a dog is euthanized and what the actual process is like, you’re probably interested in how much it costs.

The total dog euthanasia cost depends on 2 things:

  1. Your dog’s size
  2. Where you live

Generally speaking this is the cost to euthanize a dog:

  • Small dog – $35 to $80
  • Large dog – $90 to $150

If you happen to live in a large city, then the dog euthanasia cost could be double or triple that price.

On top of that, there is the cost of dog cremation (if you don’t take the dog with you to bury them yourself):

  • Communal cremation (your dog will be cremated with other dogs): $25
  • Private cremation (your dog’s ashes will be returned to you): $85