Prepare for a Peaceful, Pain-Free, Perfect Pet Euthanasia

Ensure that your beloved animal companion departs with love and respect, and without fear, suffering or distress


"Buy failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

-----Benjamin Franklin

Most people expect that that their veterinarian will be able to perform a peaceful, pain-free and professional euthanasia that will go smoothly. Thankfully, most times, this is the case. Unfortunately though, sometimes this is not the case, and the results can be catastrophic. Therefore, it is very important to prepare yourself for something going wrong and for how to best avoid or address it.


(For credits, click on or tap photo.)

In order to get an idea of what can go wrong, please read this article, Pet Euthanasia Gone Wrong, as well as the comments below it. In doing so, you will become aware of some of the signs indicating that a euthanasia may add to any suffering a patient may have been experiencing before the procedure began, as well as how that may occur.

Here are some of the most common causes or contributors to a failed euthanasia; or dysthanasia...a bad death.
1) Extreme pain and trauma for the pet from the sedative injection.

Although critical documentation is yet to occur, anecdotal evidence indicates that this is quite common. There is a lack of consensus as to whether the pain is from the drug or the needle, and the role that other factors play -- such as emaciation or dehydration of the animal, and making an injection into a flexing or tense muscle. Regardless, this step is probably too often problematic.


Possible solutions:

- A numbing agent being administered to the skin of the injection site before the sedative injection, even though this is no guarantee that other aspects of the injection won’t cause discomfort and/or pain.

- An unknown percentage of euthanasia consisting of a single lethal injection into a vein without producing any increase of distress or pain which may have existed prior to the procedure are documented and performed. These are very desirable, high quality euthanasia. But this is not recommended by pet euthanasia specialists because of the extreme risk of patient trauma due to unforeseen circumstances. It should only be considered if the practitioner is confident in the required ability and it can be assured that the patient will remain completely immobile and relaxed. If these conditions are met, the provider and client may agree to skip the potentially problematic step of sedation by injection but with risk.

- Use a different drug, if the drug is the issue.


2) Failure of the first sedative injection to have the desired effect.


Possible solutions:

- An unknown percentage of euthanasia consisting of a single lethal injection into a vein without producing any increase of distress or pain which may have existed prior to the procedure are documented and performed. These are very desirable, high quality euthanasia. But this is not recommended by pet euthanasia specialists because of the extreme risk of patient trauma due to unforeseen circumstances. It should only be considered if the practitioner is confident in the required ability and it can be assured that the patient will remain completely immobile and relaxed. If these conditions are met, the provider and client may agree to skip the potentially problematic step of sedation by injection but with risk.- Reschedule the appointment to later in the day or the next day, if possible and appropriate.

- Address the issue of dosage ahead of time with the vet, and ensure that a large enough dose is being given for the size of your pet.

- Re-do the sedative step.


3) Use of physical force.


   a) Scruffing of the neck. (Grasp of the nape of the neck.) This can cause unnecessary distress for an animal.

   b) Forcing an animal into a bag or pillowcase and tightly restraining them in it.


Possible solutions:

- Use a towel wrap to keep the animal calm and under control.

- Use a cloth over the animal's head to keep them calm by keeping them from seeing what is happening.

- Use a veterinarian certified in Low Stress Handling.

- Discuss and agree with the practitioner ahead of time (ideally in a pre-euthanasia appointment) on what degree and type of forceful restraint, if any, you’ll tolerate during the euthanasia. Include this agreement in their consent form or one that you write up and have signed.


4) The technician or the vet diverging from the plan agreed upon without the consent of the client.


Possible solution:

Get the vet's consent form to explicitly state that they will gain your consent at each step of the procedure before proceeding, and that you have the right to stop the procedure at any point. Or write up your own agreement addressing these points, and get them to agree to this arrangement and sign the agreement.


5) An animal reacting with fear and trying to resist or escape when the vet enters the animal's home or the animal enters the vet's office, or the vet enters the office.


Possible solutions:

- Obtain a pre-appointment sedative from the vet that you can administer at home, before the vet arrives, or before you take the animal to the vet clinic.

- Schedule an in-office procedure instead of an at-home euthanasia, if you have reason to believe that your pet may be afraid or aggressive if your vet or anyone who accompanies them enters your home.


6. Unwillingness of your pet to let the vet (or possibly even you) approach, touch or handle it because of extreme pain, confusion, fear or trauma being experienced by the pet, due to illness, injury, past bad experiences or other reasons.

This includes barking, growling, hissing, aggression, or attempts to bite, scratch or attack the vet or you.


Possible solutions:

- Use a vet trained in Low Stress Handling and/or CAETA methods of pet euthanasia.

- Administer a painkilling drug or oral sedative yourself if the animal will allow you, or add either to some food if they are still eating. (Obtain the drug from the vet and ideally take care of this before the euthanasia appointment.) For cats, beef, chicken or turkey baby food for human babies is something that they can easily ingest, usually like, and is easy to mix medications into.


1) Any sign of rushing or hurrying. A vet should be willing to allow enough time to go as slowly as needed to avoid causing additional distress and/or pain. (Exception: An emergency euthanasia situation, such as when an animal is in extreme pain.)

2) A vet not being open to answering questions or addressing details about the euthanasia, or using vague terms of reassurance, by saying things like "We'll work it out," "Don't worry, I'm experienced," "Trust me, I'll take care of it," etc.

3) Inflexibility, unresponsiveness or insensitivity of a vet professional towards the procedure, the animal, the client, or the client's requests, concerns or preferences.

4) Unwillingness by the vet to have a pre-euthanasia appointment to address the client's concerns, requests and preferences, as well as go over the procedure in detail, answer all questions thoroughly, and allow the client to read and sign the consent form ahead of time. It may be difficult or impossible for the client to consider any of the above at the time of the euthanasia. 

5) The vet being unwilling to schedule the euthanasia appointment for a duration of at least 30 minutes.

If you notice one or more of these warning signs before your own pet's euthanasia (or during it), and are unable to resolve it with your vet, then you should find another vet, or be ready to intervene and redirect the procedure, or potentially postpone the euthanasia.



1) Arrange for a pre-euthanasia appointment with your vet to have time to go over the euthanasia procedure, get your questions answered, express your preferences, and read and sign the release form.

2) If possible, employ a vet or vet tech that specializes in pet euthanasia. These are usually services that specialize in at-home pet euthanasia. A list of some veterinarians that provide or specialize in at-home pet euthanasia is at the In Home Pet Euthanasia Directory.

3) Have another able adult present at the euthanasia to witness it and be ready to intervene or advocate on your behalf or the animal's behalf. This is often critically necessary because of how exhausted, traumatized, apprehensive or full of grief the pet parent is, and as such, often unable to think clearly or act effectively on behalf of their pet.

4) Arrange for the pet to receive a pre-appointment sedative if needed. (A pill or a liquid drug, which can be given orally or in their food, or as an oral gel for dogs.)

5) Write a list of your preferences, requests and requirements for the euthanasia and ask for the vet’s signature stating agreement to accommodate those terms. In addition to perhaps demanding prohibition of the use of force and preferring a sedative injected subcutaneously, notifying the vet of your wish to record the euthanasia can inform you of the degree of vet confidence in the ability to provide the type of euthanasia you’ve described. Both of your signatures on an agreement about the future use and ownership of the recording may be helpful in gaining the vet’s agreement.

Failure of the vet to sign may indicate low confidence in the ability provide the type of euthanasia you’ve described. Searching for a vet who will agree may be advisable, as another vet’s degree of confidence may be preferable and sufficient for you. It may be difficult or impossible to get any vet’s agreement to record, but at least one vet specializing in euthanasia has been notifying clients that audio recordings are made. The following quote is from her intake form was sent to me by Dr. Kathleen Cooney, of CAETA. “All appointments are audio recorded for quality assurance purposes, and to hold myself to the highest of standards. If you have concerns or questions about audio recording, please let me know.” It seems fair and logical for clients to at least request permission to record both audio and visual.

6) Be prepared to stop the procedure at any point if you notice any warning signs, if your animal is reacting badly, or if anything else isn't going as wanted or expected. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO THIS.

7) Make it clear to your vet that you want to remain with your pet for the entire procedure, and do so. (There is nothing that they should be doing to your pet that you couldn't be present for, and it's important to honor your pet and your relationship with them by being there for them -- and with them the entire time -- at this most critical moment, just as most people would do for any human relative.)

8) Paying for the euthanasia after it happens can be very difficult because of the strong emotions that may occur. Paying for it ahead of time will avoid that. But because of the possibility that you may be so displeased with the euthanasia that you refuse paying all or some of the cost, make sure that your pre-payment is held unprocessed until you give notification of your degree of satisfaction.

9) Use an experienced veterinarian or veterinary professional who shows compassion and respect for your companion and who is certified in:

   a) Certified Peaceful Euthanasia Veterinarian (CPEV) or a Certified Peaceful Euthanasia Professional (CPEP) or has received training in Euthanasia Best Practices, pain-free and fear-free protocols taught by Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy.
   b) Low Stress Handling methods.
10) Ensure your vet is committed to following The 14 Essential Components of Companion Animal Euthanasia.
11) Make sure you’re prepared as well as possible by following all the steps advised in the excellent article Euthanizing an Old Dog: How It Works and What to Expect. (It also applies to cats and other pets).  And review Saying Goodbye: Preparing for a Pet’s Euthanasia from the Meowing Vet. Here are Seven Ways to Prepare for a Planned Euthanization from Wag! To consider and prepare for a pet euthanasia performed at home, here is Preparing for Your Pet’s Euthanasia from Home Pet Euthanasia of Southern California.


WARNING: A euthanasia that causes distress and/or pain in addition to any that pre-existed isn’t only traumatizing (and final) to the patient. It can also be devastating for witnesses to live with the imagery and memories of such a euthanasia. The psychological trauma that can result may be very serious and persistent, especially if it occurred in the home of the witnesses and some of them were children. So it's worth doing everything possible to avoid one or stop one that appears to be going wrong.

NOTE: Becoming familiar with accounts of adverse and traumatic euthanasia may be the best way to prepare yourself. This can help you learn what to watch for and how to react if a warning sign is noticed. Although becoming familiar with these accounts may be difficult and unpleasant, it’s unlikely to be as difficult and unpleasant as experiencing and living with one.

(Cat and dog photos courtesy of, licensed from Ron Chapple Photography.)


Separate pre-euthanasia appointment advised - plus advice on child presence, from providers of compassion and understanding in heart-breaking times -

At-Home Pet Euthanasia - Cautions and Considerations - Home pet euthanasia can also go wrong! - from

Pet Euthanasia Gone Wrong - MUST READ ARTICLE. Part 1 of a two-part series by dog trainer Jill Brietner. Also read the comments.

Frequently Asked Questions - note especially "Can you euthanize an aggressive dog?" (or cat), from providers of veterinary hospice and in-home euthanasia -

Facts About Euthanasia (Small Animals) - A description of the procedure from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Euthanizing an Old Dog: How it Works and What to Expect - MUST READ ARTICLE. ALSO APPLIES TO CATS AND OTHER COMPANION ANIMALS. This is part 2 of the Pet Euthanasia Gone Wrong series on pet euthanasia by dog trainer Jill Breitner. From

What Happens During Euthanasia? Another description of the process from the Pet Loss Support Group of the Denver Area Veterinary Medicine Society.


Please feel free to share your questions, comments or feedback on this topic on our Message Board or below.

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