5 things to know about pet euthanasia – what to expect

You’ve made the gut-wrenching decision that it’s time to say good-bye to your beloved dog or cat. You’ve scheduled the euthanasia appointment. This article is not intended to discuss making the decision, but what to expect during the euthanasia process once the decision is made. You’ll be emotional. You won’t hear much of what the vet is saying. What’s going on? Knowing what to expect makes the process that much more peaceful – this is not a time you want surprises.

Death in real life doesn’t look like it does in movies – good or bad! This might be a hard article to read, but it’s good to know exactly what to expect. Ideally, if you have a close friend or family member facing the loss of a pet, you can read this and have the knowledge to be a voice of reason and help your friend. The most frequent comment I get from people after a home euthanasia is “that was so peaceful!” And it is.

Nowadays, modern veterinarians almost always sedate animals prior to euthanasia, so that’s the process I am describing.

1 – Animals, including people, do not close their eyes when sedated, under anesthesia, or deceased. 

OK, so some movies get this part right. Some pets will partially close their eyes, but it’s never really a complete closure. This bothers some people. I’ll often close them slightly to help, but it never goes all the way. With humans, funeral homes glue the eyelids shut. We vets do that from time to time when the owner is taking a pet home to bury and wants to look at it one last time – it makes a much more peaceful final memory.

put dog to sleep2 – When an animal is sedated before the euthanasia, and after they pass, everything relaxes.

It takes a lot of energy to keep your tongue in your mouth, so some pets may have their tongue stick out a tiny bit. If your pet was a snorer, then snoring can be a big part of the experience while they are becoming more sedate. The back end tends to relax too. I see this most in the old, painful dogs who haven’t been able to walk well. They are holding their potty, and once they are sedated, or when they pass away, it all comes out. We’ll often have a towel or blanket under them to collect any urine or feces. And if your pet was having any gastrointestinal upset, the gas will be released!

3 – During the euthanasia process, breathing temporarily becomes slightly faster.

When the dog or cat is sedated, they are very relaxed. As the veterinarian gives the IV injection of the overdose of the anesthetic drug (the euthanasia solution), he or she is essentially putting the pet deeper under anesthesia. A normal part of an animal going deeper under anesthesia is an increase in respiration rate, or faster breathing. In a clinic when we are putting an animal under anesthesia for surgery, we’ll call this “huffing and puffing.” This can be a little disturbing when your pet has been sedated, seems peaceful, then starts taking deep breaths for a few seconds. Some animals really breathe deeply for a few breaths, and others more or less skip this phase. The breathing is a sign of deeper anesthesia, not that they are waking up, hurting, or feeling anything at all really.

4 – Death is not instantaneous.

After we’ve completed the IV injection, the veterinarian will listen to your pet’s chest with a stethoscope. The absence of a heartbeat confirms the pet has passed. However, it takes some time for the rest of the body to get the message – everything does not shut down at once. It is common to hear some intestinal gurgling for several minutes after the pet has passed. Some neurons can fire, leading to slight muscle twitching, usually seen in the legs. These are often subtle, but can be disturbing if you don’t know this is normal. Also, any air in the lungs must exit, which sometimes comes out rapidly, sounding like a breath! This does not happen all the time, but I warn everyone, just in case. And these can happen a couple minutes after the pet is deceased.

5 – You have some time before the pet gets “stiff”.

Some owners worry about rigor mortis setting in once the pet has passed, and they do not want to see that! I totally get it, and you have nothing to worry about. It takes a couple hours for the process to occur, so if you want to stay with your pet for several minutes after he or she is gone, that is perfectly OK.

I hope telling these things doesn’t make you not want to be with your pet during to euthanasia process. I strongly encourage all owners to be with their pet throughout the process. It is peaceful, and it’s the least you can do for a pet who has given you so many years of love!

Posted in Myths & Hot Topics, Senior pets.


  1. It’s interesting to learn that a pet —as with a human— would never have its eyes closed all the way without the use of a glue or paste as you’ve mentioned. That is kind of a sad thing to think about for it reminds me of how much the pets are considered to be part of one’s family. Our cat is still very strong at the moment but would most certainly meet its fate in the long run which is why it makes me tear up to think about the possibility. I’m just glad that there is pet euthanasia that would be able to help ease his burden when the time comes. Thanks!

  2. One of my friends is going through a difficult life event with her dog. She has been considering an at-home pet euthanasia service to help her, but she still has questions. It would help her a lot know that she can stay with her childhood friend for several minutes after he passes.

    • Please encourage her to have her pet at home. My dog was so calm, not at all frightened as he was in his usual space beside me on the sofa, and he even got down and greeted his vet when he arrived. The time we had with him here was perfect

  3. I had to have my beautiful boy put to sleep in July. Because his veins had collapsed my vet gave him an intramuscular injection of sedation first. It took 15 minutes before he eventually laid down and became unconscious, but he was so peaceful that those minutes were precious. What distressed me was that after the second injection into the abdomen was given, although my vet did tell me that my dog would breathe faster for a while, he started snorting and blowing out his cheeks. I was so scared that he was in pain or fighting the anaesthetic. The vet said he wasn’t but that part has stayed with me, that his death might not have been pain free.
    You are the only ones who have described the ” huffing and puffing” part to me, and have put my mind at rest at last that he didn’t suffer
    Thank you xxx

  4. Honestly, the first time i saw one of my dogs die, I would have preferred rigor morris to set in sooner. He wasn’t euthanized, but I just want to put it out there. One of the main things I remember from his passing was what happened after. He died at home, and because we had two other dogs at the time, he had to be moved. My uncle picked him up to take him to another room and seeing his body bend in such an unnatural way was awful. But I’d assume you’d encounter this if you saw your dog being moved after euthanasia as well, so that’s something to be aware of.

  5. I put it down my dog last month and I can’t accept her loss I feel so bad and blaming myself why I need to agree to pet euthanasia procedure. My dog diagnosed a kidney failure and most of the time she experiences a seizure that’s why I made a tough decision for my dearest dog.

  6. I had to make this heart breaking decision a week ago. We went to the vets and the process was so calm and peaceful. I decided to bring my beautiful dog home to be buried in the garden. The worst part for me has been constantly worrying that she could wake up in her grave. I know how silly it sounds it was just there niggling at me. However I know I made the right decision and that she can now rest. The house just isn’t the same even though I have other pets I miss her greatly.

  7. Thanks for helping me understand that the urine or feces will go out after they pass away in this kind of death. I will keep that in mind so that we will be prepared. We just decided to have this done to our family dog because he really looks like he is having a hard time. He cries at night when we are already asleep, and he only gets his sleep when we massage him.

  8. I appreciate letting us know that an animal put win anesthesia has an increase in respiration. My little girl is crying because we want to take the dog the veterinarian. Thank you for helping learn more on the dog’s behavior with anesthesia, now I know what to tell my daughter in case she asks.

  9. I know even it is hard to read, i have decided to put him down via euthanasia at home. my dear bella is in pain and i know she can’t take it anymore, but i hugged her for the last time so tightly.

  10. Thanks so much for this article. We had our cat put to sleep last November and the vet warned us of the same things. However, I didn’t know her very well (it was our first meeting) and I wasn’t sure if she was telling me the truth.

    I’ve been too afraid to look it up because I couldn’t bear the thought that my cat had actually been conscious, panicking and in pain. Until now.

    Your article has given me great comfort.

  11. I am a 65 yr old guy yet I cured like a baby and have also today I had to put down my beautiful 4 legged princess mustafa a wonderful beautifully behaved kitty from day one a black and Norwegian forest cat she came to be 14 years ago a full adult stray scared and hungry I sat every day on the steps of my porch fed her patted her head which at first she was so scared but we forged a bond soon she was on my lap then in my house on my lap being petted never messed on the floor or ruined dug up anything in 14 years just giving me plenty of purrs and leg rubs and hours of petting .she got cancer then started losing weight then not eating much it was so hard to let her go but my vet said she was suffering and nothing could be done Mustafa and I hug on as long as we could I would tell her of my ailments and aging and as if she understood would meow and purr and look up at me as much to say me to. It was woohoo hard to make that call but the vet told me it’s the best gift I could give her she’s suffering a lot urinary problems not. Being able to poop and. Probably in a lot of pain. I needed several times to massage her shoulders and neck and she would curl and go to sleep I feel so guilty but I know she is no longer in pain I still cry thinking about her but tell her I to will soon cross over and we again can be together

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