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Dog and cat euthanasia: answers to frequently asked questions

Dog euthanasia

A veterinarian performing a private practice is appointed to treat animals, take care of their health, properly educate pet owners and prevent the development of diseases through skilfully conducted prophylaxis.

These are the main social expectations of people in this beautiful profession of public trust.

When going with a dog or cat to the nearest veterinary clinic, we assume somewhere subconsciously that in each case we will receive comprehensive help there, the end result of which will be not only accurate diagnosis but also effective treatment leading to a happy ending.

However, such an assumption as it is easy to guess is unrealistic and may not be implemented in every case. Not because the doctor does not want to help, but because of the numerous limitations that also apply to veterinary medicine.

Many disease entities cannot be completely cured, but only minimize their burdensome effects for animals and improve the comfort of being ill.

As in the case of people, sometimes we have to accept the fact that there is no "universal cure" for every disease or pathology.

I mean all incurable diseases that affect us as much as our companion animals.

We must also remember that the biological life span of dogs and cats is definitely shorter than that of their owners and the natural aging processes run faster.

When taking a pet, we must take into account that this difficult moment will come when we will have to part with our pet.

Of course, we try to postpone this time at all costs, not forgetting, however, that it is not about life expectancy, but more about its quality.

So, how to behave in this really last stage of a dog's and cat's life, until when to conduct treatment and how to carry out a medical procedure that brings relief from sickness and suffering?

  • What is euthanasia?
    • Legal aspects of animal euthanasia
  • Indications for euthanasia
    • When to finally decide to euthanize?
  • Can the doctor refuse to put a dog or a cat to sleep??
  • Does euthanasia hurt the dog and the cat?
  • Practical issues regarding euthanasia
  • Dog euthanasia at home
  • What to do with the carcass of an animal?
  • How much is euthanasia?

What is euthanasia?

The term euthanasia comes from the Greek word euthanasia and means "good death ".

Although it is an ambiguous concept, it is understood by all as the killing of another, terminally ill and very suffering creature caused by compassion, at the express request of her or her immediate family.

It is an activity that arouses great controversy in the case of human medicine and is assessed very negatively by many.

The doctor is educated and is called to save life and fight for its every moment, and not to kill the terminally ill.

In most countries, euthanasia is treated as a crime punishable by imprisonment and defined as a type of homicide.

The admissibility of euthanasia is an extremely complex ethical issue with numerous supporters and opponents.

Its opponents consider life as the highest good and the most beautiful gift that a person can receive from God who loves him, hence it is unacceptable to take on one's own existence and take it prematurely.

Supporters assume that respecting the will of a suffering incurable patient to whom modern medicine is unable to offer more, protecting him from suffering and respecting his dignity are paramount values.

According to this reasoning, it is a person who decides whether to be or not and ultimately chooses the rules on which he wants to stop living.

Such dilemmas concern people and, perhaps not surprisingly, are fully justified.

In the case of veterinary medicine, the matter seems much simpler and no doctor who conscientiously practices his profession will be accused of killing an animal in a humane manner, unless, of course, the guardian of the dog or cat gives the appropriate consent and there is a medical justification for it.

However, carrying out euthanasia only seems to be a simple activity.

Certainly, most doctors treat it as a necessity, not a pleasant procedure, because really no one with a healthy mind likes to kill other living creatures.

It is also framed by very detailed legal provisions that define in detail the terms and conditions as well as the performance of this activity.

Legal aspects of animal euthanasia

The profession of a veterinarian is treated by the society as that of public trust, therefore representatives performing it are required to maintain an appropriate standard in the provision of services and, as in the case of other professions, knowledge of the law governing it.

Therefore, the doctor should absolutely know the current legal status of the profession, which is also reflected in one of the basic documents, which is the Code of Veterinary Ethics and Deontology.

The basic legal act in force in our country is still the Animal Protection Act of 21.08.1997 as amended.

Already at the very beginning of this legal act, we read that:

"An animal as a living creature, capable of suffering, is not a thing and man owes him respect, care and protection ".

Then it was written that:

"Requires humane treatment ".

The legislator prohibits the inhumane and unjustified killing and abuse of animals.

The Act also specifies cases where it is possible to kill animals.

This may be justified:

  • sanitary necessity,
  • humanitarian reasons,
  • in case of excessive aggressiveness posing a threat to human health and life
  • in the case of wild animals living in the vicinity of humans.

It can also apply to newborn, still blind litters of animals.

A necessary condition during euthanasia is to conduct it in a humane manner, during which a minimum of physical and mental suffering is inflicted.

So it is not only about the end result, but also about the entire course of this irreversible process.

The companion animals are put to sleep on the basis of the consent of the owner or the consent of the veterinarian.

So we can see that the act treats cases, indications for euthanasia rather generally without mentioning specific situations that we will encounter in everyday life in clinics.

The above provisions should be understood as consent to the euthanasia treatment if we find the actual state in the form of suffering of an animal suffering permanent pain and then our moral duty as those responsible for pets is to reduce unnecessary suffering.

The detailed rules for euthanasia are specified in the Ordinance of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of 09.09.2004.

In this document, we will find information on the technical principles and acceptable methods of euthanasia (e.g. lethal dose of an anesthetic or euthanasia agent or bleeding the animal during anesthesia).

In turn, in the "internal " document that is obligatory for every veterinarian, namely the Veterinary Doctor's Code of Ethics, we can find the following statement:

"In justified cases, the doctor may consider the possibility of humanely killing the animal ".

So, as we can see, based on the above-mentioned legal provisions, the veterinarian has a wide space to analyze each case when he can perform the euthanasia procedure.

Each case should be considered individually.

It also results in the possibility of refusal, which we can meet in the office when the doctor decides that not all treatment options have been used and the animal can be helped instead of put to sleep.

Therefore, the pet owner should not be surprised when he hears a refusal in the office, which will be medically justified by appropriate treatment.

Let's move on to the practical issues related to the procedure itself.

Indications for euthanasia

What are the indications for putting the animal to sleep?

When to opt for dog / cat euthanasia?

There is no unambiguous and only correct answer to this question.

Each animal caretaker is therefore faced with a kind of dilemma and it is no wonder that he often looks for support and help from a veterinarian.

This question is extremely important and without answering it unequivocally, we will not "go further".

I know from my own experience that it is much better to think quickly and make a decision than to postpone it indefinitely, especially in a situation of visible suffering of the animal.

Some decisions are made quickly and it is easy for the owner to make them.

This happens most often in obvious situations, when even a layman sees euthanasia as the best possible solution.

As an example, let us take the multi-organ trauma that the animal undergoes during a traffic accident and the very serious condition of the patient, which is not likely to be cured.

More often, however, the question arises in less obvious cases, in the case of old animals, chronically ill, with serious diseases that run with periods of deterioration but also with phases of better well-being.

Then the decision seems more difficult for obvious reasons.

We know that we are not able to permanently cure an animal that will require medication for life, and with time its condition will deteriorate and deteriorate.

One thing is certain - we should be convinced of it internally and feel that by choosing this solution we are doing the best for our animal at the moment.

So where to practically start?

First of all, we should clearly establish the current situation in which the animal is, i.e. examine it thoroughly.

Without this important, I would say basic veterinary medical activity, it is impossible to consider choosing the right moment to achieve what is final.

The examination and a thorough interview with the guardian who knows his pet best because he stays with him on a daily basis is a good foundation for considering the quality of life of a dog or cat.

So, together with the owner, we have to think about and answer an auxiliary question, namely:

  1. Does the diagnosed disease and clinical condition of the dog and cat have a good prognosis and is it possible to recover?
  2. Is the current state not a coincidence related to pain and suffering and thus living in great discomfort??
  3. What are the treatment options, are they very burdensome and the results obtained are inadequate to the costs incurred??
  4. Is our ward able to exist independently and perform their normal, physiological activities such as eating, drinking, taking care of?
  5. Is there a mental contact with him, can he hear us, see us, react to commands, touch?

The decision to euthanize should be made by the owner, and the physician should be an advisor suggesting something but not deciding instead.

Older age, i.e. "entering the autumn of life", will be associated with worse health, a decrease in the physical and mental condition of each animal, but it should never be treated as an independent disease entity.

What I would like to emphasize emphatically old age is not a disease and therefore cannot be the only reason for euthanasia!

An animal, even at an advanced age, can exist in a relatively good psychophysical condition.

Therefore, we should start thinking about euthanasia in a situation where we have an animal under our care that is not fully independent, showing symptoms of constant, chronic pain resulting from the primary disease, with which it is more and more difficult to contact and which does not demonstrate the comfort of life.

We should not consent to suffering, especially when we are not able to mitigate its consequences, and the therapeutic process itself is also a nuisance for the owner himself and often costs considerable costs.

In an honest conversation with the guardian of the dog or cat, you should strictly define the border, exceeding which will become a reason for euthanasia.

In other words, you need to know what is acceptable to us and to what point we decide to undergo treatment.

We pay attention to symptoms such as:

  • pain, loud barking, vocalization, insomnia, bothersome behavior of a dog or cat at night,
  • dementia, uncontrolled defecation and urination in places not intended for this,
  • loss of vision, blindness, hearing, confusion,
  • aggressiveness towards the owner and other animals,
  • seizures that are difficult to control,
  • visceral pain,
  • neoplastic process, loss of appetite, weight loss, apathy,
  • pain when moving, joint disease,
  • persistent vomiting, emaciation,
  • shortness of breath, ascites, cyanosis, hydrocephalus,
  • inability to move.

These are, of course, only examples of symptoms, but they perfectly illustrate the need to set boundaries.

Remember that we, the people, are responsible for how long our animal will suffer.

For if the implemented treatment does not bring the expected effect, then only we are competent to mark its end and shorten the suffering of the animal, which does not know why it experiences such enormous discomfort.

When to finally decide to euthanize?

Man taking care of a dog or cat also becomes fully responsible for his life and fate.

Therefore, it is difficult to expect that someone else will also make the decision about the departure of an animal.

After all, it is through many years of living together under one roof or on one farm that we should learn about the pet's behavior and only we know best when it suffers unnecessarily.

Euthanasia gives you the opportunity to leave without pain and fear when an irreversible, incurable and extremely burdensome disease cannot be controlled by the available therapeutic methods.

I know that making such a decision can cause many problems and give rise to many dilemmas, but remember that only animal keepers are able to consciously make it, and although this is one of the most difficult decisions, no one will release us from it.

Not deciding to leave calmly is also a decision that has consequences for our animal.

It is at this stage that the feelings we had for our pet show up. Was it empathy and understanding of its presence or maybe our egoism that allows us to live in permanent discomfort.

Hesitations before making a decision are fully justified, but they should not be too long.

Often, the owner tries to force and impose some kind of final decision on the doctor, feeling the relief himself.

This solution is not appropriate. The doctor should be treated as an adviser, an important voice in the discussion for and against, some kind of authority, which, however, does not exempt from the obligation to make the owner's decision.

As for euthanasia, we should absolutely be convinced in a given case.

A doctor, when making a diagnosis and proposing treatment, may simply be wrong, so it is worth consulting each case, including euthanasia in a different veterinary clinic.

This is not an expression of distrust of the attending doctor, but reassuring the owner that he is doing the right thing and that the available treatment will not be effective.

Therefore, neither a decision made too quickly nor postponing the decision about euthanasia are advisable.

The most important criterion that we should follow is the quality of life, which I would like to emphasize once again, and not the life expectancy of a dog or cat.

By making a diagnosis, we know exactly how the disease will run and which stages are associated with pain, suffering or discomfort.

We also know the symptoms of pain in animals and we know intuitively when a dog or a cat is feeling unwell.

Therefore, careful observation of the student / ward may be helpful in making the final decision.

Can the doctor refuse to put a dog or a cat to sleep??

Can a veterinarian refuse to put an animal to sleep?

There are cases where the veterinarian may refuse to perform the euthanasia procedure.

It is always the duty of a practicing veterinarian to assess whether a sick animal actually suffers from an incurable disease and there is no way to help it effectively.

In many cases, it is the owners who, for various reasons, try to force the doctor to euthanize, giving trivial reasons or not being able, for various reasons, to continue treating their animals.

Sometimes, due to lack of financial resources, they simply do not want long-term therapy, and sometimes regular visits to the clinic interfere with their life plans.

Then euthanasia seems to be a rational solution.

The absence of an animal removes any problems associated with it.

Not all chronic diseases are incurable. And so a request to put an animal to sleep due to some skin, liver or tooth disease is not an indication for euthanasia, especially since we have effective methods of dealing with it.

The refusal to perform a procedure should always be medically and legally justified.

You should also always propose an alternative and outline the treatment options available.

The owner coming to the clinic should have full medical documentation from another place where the animal was treated.

This makes the transmitted information credible, especially when the dog or cat is not known, i.e. we have not treated it.

The veterinarian may send such a patient to the attending physician who treated the dog or cat when the euthanasia procedure is not urgent and the animal is in reasonably good physical condition.

Does euthanasia hurt the dog and the cat?

Euthanasia called "a good, peaceful death " by definition should be a painless procedure in which the participating animal does not experience pain, stress and anxiety.

In the vast majority of cases, such a procedure is performed as long as the veterinarian who performs it adheres to the recommended procedures and methods of its implementation.

Until recently, pets were put to sleep through intracardiac drug administration, which was highly controversial and was associated with short-term but still painfulness.

Fortunately, fewer and fewer doctors now perform euthanasia in this way.

The end result in the form of the death of the animal was achieved, but the way to investigate it could not be fully acceptable.

An animal subjected to euthanasia is premedicated so that it does not suffer, is not afraid and lies quietly on the table.

Only then is the correct euthanasia agent administered.

The procedure performed in this way guarantees painlessness, which is extremely important also from the point of view of the caregiver himself.

It is he who expects the painless death of his pet, which undoubtedly manifests itself in great humanitarianism.

So we can rest assured that skilfully performed euthanasia does not hurt our dog, on the contrary it brings him relief from suffering and allows him to go away.

Practical issues regarding euthanasia

It is obvious that this procedure is carried out efficiently, skilfully and quickly.

This procedure should therefore be carefully developed organizationally and technically so that we know in detail what and when to do.

Although the treatment itself is difficult for the owner from a psychological point of view, it is easier to bear it when it is introduced in detail by a veterinarian.

So it is not a waste of time to discuss all euthanasia issues before performing it and answer any questions that may arise from the pet caregiver.

At the very beginning, after making the decision, the veterinarian will ask the pet owner to sign a written consent for the euthanasia procedure.

The reason for euthanasia is stated there and a statement that in the last time (15 days) the animal has not bitten anyone, has not bitten a person and was vaccinated for rabies.

Consent for euthanasia is a basic document with legal effects and it must not be abandoned.

Only after signing it, we proceed to further activities, i.e. a detailed discussion of what the procedure will look like.

So we describe to the owner the action of the drugs that the animal will stand and all possible side effects (eg. muscle tremors, gasping, defecation and urination), the order in which they were administered, duration of action, etc.

This should especially apply to all those who want to be with their pet until the last moment.

Opinions are divided as to the presence of caretakers when the animals are put to sleep.

It is the dog or cat owner himself who should make a conscious decision whether he wants to participate in euthanasia. The presence with the animal until the very end allows in many cases to come to terms with its departure easier and to experience mourning.

Of course, children should not participate in euthanasia itself, but on the other hand, we should not lie to them, but rather tell the truth what happened to their friend.

And finally, all organizational issues.

It is worth arranging at the beginning what to do with collars, harnesses, muzzles and other items after the animal.

Are they to be handed over to the owner, or maybe disposed of or given to animals in need living in shelters.

We should accept and comply with the holder's decision on this matter and not judge it.

The technical performance of euthanasia itself should be quick and performed by experienced personnel.

The room where the animal is put to sleep should be quiet and ensure intimacy so that the owner who wants to participate in the moment of saying goodbye feels comfortable in it.

The procedure itself is accompanied by strong emotions and it is unacceptable for other customers waiting in line with their dogs or cats to look at the course of euthanasia.

The optimal solution would be a separate room with an assigned entrance.

For the procedure itself, an assistant who is able to support the animal may be necessary, because the guardian may not help us at the decisive moment for various reasons.

When performing euthanasia, we administer drugs that have a calming and calming effect, and that eliminate anxiety, fear or excessive mobility of the animal.

After a dozen or so minutes, when they start to work and the animal is calm, we can start the intravenous access, through which we will administer the euthanasia preparation in the appropriate dose.

However, we must be careful, because most drugs from this group lower blood pressure and make it difficult to insert the cannula later.

Large venous vessels, such as the cephalic or sagittal vein, are best suited for this purpose.

After administering sedatives, but before administering appropriate euthanasia drugs (e.g. barbiturates in Morbital) it is worth giving the owner time to say goodbye.

It is best then to leave the room and come back in a few minutes, leaving the animal and its master alone.

We administer barbiturates intravenously, which determines their quick and effective action.

These preparations should be administered rapidly intravenously and possible extravasation may lead to delayed action and cause pain at the injection site.

Intracardiac, intrapleural or intraperitoneal injections must not be performed in the presence of the owner who is looking at them.

Rapid intravenous injection causes the cortex to shut off, complete loss of consciousness, and apnea along with cardiac arrest.

Only then do we proceed to the declaration of the animal's death.

We must be absolutely sure that it has occurred and that the animal will not wake up after some time.

Also, the guardian himself, who did not participate in the euthanasia process, should convince himself of his pet's departure.

It is important that after the procedure, all air vessels are removed and, if possible, the traces of medical intervention are eliminated.

Dog euthanasia at home

Is dog euthanasia at home a good solution??

Supporters of euthanasia at home argue this with the fact that they want their ward to go away in an environment that he knew and liked, and not in a "hostile " veterinary office.

Home conditions, however, are not always suitable for this purpose, and often even leave a lot to be desired.

Euthanasia is a medical procedure that should rather be performed in offices with appropriate technical facilities.

In the privacy of your home, the treatment can be complicated, which leaves a bad taste and a bad impression.

The animal in the conditions in which it lived may be more unruly, the procedure itself is more difficult to perform and leave in the memory of the household members an image of a dead dog or cat in the place where it lived.

These treatments should rather be reserved for animals that are difficult to transport to the clinic, elderly, non-walking or in a situation where the owners themselves are unable to transport them to the clinic.

The most difficult to perform is euthanasia in the yard, in the case of a non-cooperating dog, which is additionally afraid of the owner himself and, additionally, it is getting dark.

So we should always consider beforehand whether we are able to carry out this treatment at home so that its performance is quick, efficient and painless for the animal.

There is also a problem with dealing with the corpse.

Many disposal companies also collect them from private homes, but the costs of this are often greater, which should be informed to the owner.

What to do with the carcass of an animal?

Although the dog is our property, we are not free to deal with its body after death.

Applicable legal provisions, which we should all strictly adhere to, strictly define what can be done and what obligations are imposed on the owner of a dog or cat also after its death.

You should also discuss this issue with the animal's guardian at the beginning.

The bodies of dogs and cats can be buried in special places called animal cemeteries or cremated.

Of course, in these cases, we use the services of specialized companies whose activities are governed by the relevant sanitary and veterinary regulations.

We really have a choice when it comes to dealing with the corpse and every decision is right, subject to compliance with the applicable sanitary regulations.

Another very common option, often chosen, is to leave the corpse in a clinic that disposes of it in an appropriate, safe way.

Each clinic or office must have a place to keep the body and an agreement for their collection and disposal by a specialized company.

The corpse is collected and then transported to a recycling plant, which guarantees safety for the environment and people.

We must remember that the carcasses of animals can transmit many infectious diseases and pose a threat to groundwater.

The worst solution is to hand over the corpse to the owners who assure us that they will bury the dog or cat themselves. Such actions, although still quite common, carry the risk of penalties resulting from breaking the applicable sanitary regulations.

So burying where dogs and cats will fall (eg. in forests, on their own plots) should not be performed, and the owners should not be educated in this regard.

We should also not forget about the financial costs, which, although they are related to the disposal, at the same time provide certainty and peace of mind that the corpse of our ward is properly secured and does not pose a threat to people.

How much is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is one of the medical services for which, of course, we have to pay the vet who performs it.

The question of the cost of this procedure is often asked when considering and considering the timing of its implementation.

When the caregiver asks about the sleep process itself, they are usually also interested in the costs it will have to pay. And here the answer is almost never unequivocal.

It is difficult to say in detail at the interview stage how much it will cost, but it is always worth determining at the very beginning how much we will have to pay.

The doctor never really knows how much he will use to put to sleep, hence it is difficult to determine the final price even before the entire procedure is performed.

In fact, it is solved differently in different clinics:

Sometimes we have fixed prices depending on body weight.

For example, for the euthanasia of 10-20 kg of a dog we will pay this amount, and for 20-30 kg this rate.

Hence, it is always worth asking about the costs, so as not to be unpleasantly surprised or unprepared later. 

So the price depends on the size of the animal. And so, for example, putting a small dog to sleep may be around PLN 50 and a large German Shepherd may be around 150-200 PLN.

In addition, there are the costs of the disposal of the corpse.

Here, too, the price depends to a large extent on the method of its implementation. Disposal by a company that will come to the clinic and collect the corpse costs less than PLN 10 per kilogram of the corpse (e.g. 7-8 PLN).

Services related to the cremation of the body and the collection of the obtained ash in an urn are much more expensive. Then the costs reach up to a thousand zlotys.

Euthanasia at home is also more expensive because travel and home visit costs are often added.

So we can see that it is difficult to estimate the costs of the procedure itself, which may differ significantly depending on the veterinary clinic, therefore it is always worth determining this issue before performing this procedure.


Animals accompanying us have the privilege that in a situation where we are not able to help them, we can shorten their suffering and incurable disease.

They will not tell us this themselves, so it really depends on us, because only we can make the right decision.

The choice of sleep as the final action is in many cases a manifestation of our humanitarianism and not only the will to quickly get rid of the problem in the form of eliminating a sick animal.

However, we should always exhaust all available therapeutic options in advance and decide on euthanasia as a last resort.

Both premature selection and delaying its implementation are unfavorable options for our animal.

Therefore, we should approach euthanasia with great caution, but at the same time we should not hesitate to advise it, seeing that the animal suffers.

Ultimately, the decisions are made by the animal's guardian, who, however, must be fully convinced of its rightness.

The doctor guarantees efficient, painless and professional performance of this unpleasant procedure.

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