What happens to pets after they are put down by the vet?

  • By: Mick Whitefield
  • Time to read: 13 min.

What Happens to Dogs After they are Put Down by the Vet?

Euthanasia which we discuss further on in this article is your decision about having your pet put to sleep, but many people struggle with this decision because they don’t know what happens immediately AFTER your pet has been put to sleep. So here we are going to go through the choices you have.

In most cases the vet is going to ask you whether you want your pets body “returned to you” “cremated for you on your behalf” with the ashes returned to you if you wish, or simply “have the body disposed of”.

The emotional aspect of this decision is yours alone, the vet is simply applying the fact that he MUST give you a choice and a decision HAS to be made.

In most cases veterinary services will offer to return your pets body to you, so that you can take them elsewhere, leaving the decision for you to take your pets body to a Pet Crematorium, a Pet Burial Ground or to Bury At Home.

Most veterinary services will also offer a “Cremation Service” where the ashes of your pet will be returned to you at a later date.

Burial of Your Pet At Home

Another option is burial. You may want to inter your pet at home, but be sure to check with your local authorities in case there are any specific requirements or restrictions. If you decide to bury your beloved dog at home, the clinic staff will help you place the body in a casket or blanket, depending on your preference. It’s best to avoid burying your pet in non-biodegradable materials. 

The act of burying your pet at home may be a simple one. Digging a hole in a corner of the garden, perhaps marking the spot with a garden ornament or a plant such as a rose.

If you have not already prepared the burial place, it’s best to move your deceased pet into a curled position, as if they were sleeping. This is because when rigor mortis sets in a few hours after death, the body stiffens, and it can be more labour-intensive to move and bury your pet if they are laying stretched out on their side. 

Whilst the decision to bury your pet in the garden may seem simple for some, for others that may not be the case. Here at Top Lap Dogs we came across this problem when we had to bury a couple of rescue horses in our paddock.

The paddock has a watercourse running next to one side of the paddock so we had to bury the horses on the other side of the paddock well away from the watercourse. There may be local by-laws that prevent you from burying anything within 2 or 3 metres of a drainage channel or waterway.

If you rent the property that you live in, the landlord may object to you burying a pet in the garden or, people moving in after you may not be respectful of the gravesite you have chosen and simply dig it up.

So please put a little thought into where you bury your beloved pet.

Using a Burial Pod or Urn

Some people choose to use what is known as a burial pod or a Living Urn such as those supplied by Bios (urnabios.com). This is where the cremation ashes of your beloved pet are placed in an urn with very specific mix of additives and your choice of tree or plant is planted with the created mix, helping to ensure that the tree or chosen plant grows in its place. This can serve as a beautiful reminder of your beloved pet.

Urn From Biospets Packaging
A sustainable pet urn from urnabios.com

This is considered to be by many a green and sustainable way of burying your pets ashes and at the same time allowing the grieving process to become one of celebration.

Caskets or pods such as the ones from Paw Pods for instance are made of sustainable bamboo and rice husk and allow your children – or you – to write or draw a message on the burial pod and then plant a seeded sympathy card that comes with it and await the resulting growth of some beautiful flowers.

Urn Heart Packaging And Sympathy
Sustainable Heart Shaped Urn from PawPods.com

Pet Cemeteries (Burial Sites) & Crematories

If you are determined to bury your pet and cannot bury your pet at home there are now a variety of places that are registered as pet cemeteries, The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC – see link at the bottom) is a not for profit organisation that has a worldwide list of members that they recognize as professionals.

Otherwise do a local Google search in your area. There are many local pet cemeteries in places like small woodlands where you can visit when you want to afterward and they can be a wonderful place for some peace and reflection and recollection of memories.

Cremation of Your Pet

The most popular choice among pet owners is cremation, and you can decide to choose whether you want to take the pet’s ashes with you or leave everything for the clinic to deal with. Most animal cremation services offer a broad range of urns and other personalized memorials. 

If you want the pet cremated, there are several options available. If you’re going to take the body to the crematorium yourself, it’s best to gently curl it into a resting position wrapped in a blanket. Ensure that your car boot or seat is lined with a waterproof soft material as you may have to deal with leaking body fluids.

If your veterinary clinic is arranging the cremation for you, they will keep the body at the clinic until the crematorium is ready for it. Usually, the pet’s body is picked up by the crematorium staff in their own transport and taken to the cremation facility. The ashes will then be returned to yourself or the clinic.

You have a choice to buy an urn of your choosing or the crematorium will place the ashes in a basic urn to be returned to you.

Urn For Pet
An Urn for Pets Ashes

If the death occurred at home the crematorium service will most likely pick up your pets body from your home and return the ashes to you when all is done.

Is Euthanasia the right decision?

Euthanasia is the medical act of “Humanely inducing death without pain and suffering”.

A humane death is the process of administering a euthanasia solution to end life quickly. The vet does this by first rendering the animal unconscious to lessen any suffering and pain and then putting the dog to sleep permanently by the inducement of a sleeping draught from which there is no return. 

It is not always easy to know the right time at which to humanely end your beloved pet’s suffering and pain, mainly because we do not know how much pain they are in. The euthanasia of a family dog is a difficult decision and often a solemn time for everyone involved in the process.

Euthanasia may, however, be less stressful if you prepared in advance for the process and you understand what to expect.

Although a heart-breaking time, to have your pet put down is sometimes the kindest decision you can make. Doing your research about euthanasia before the sad day arrives can help you and your family understand what happens and ultimately feel better about your decision regarding the process involved.

Pet owners usually have a bit of time to consider things before making this final decision. As part of the process it is good to discuss with family members after consulting with your vet and the vet will often send you home with your pet to spend time making the decision and coming to terms with the decision you have to make.

While you and your family might be able to tell if the pet seems to be struggling or is acting out of character, your vet may be able to give a better insight into what choices are available for any life changes that might affect your pets quality of life. 

Aspects to consider should include your dog’s comfort (can you ease the pain or not?), their appetite, happiness, mobility, breathing, mental capacity, toileting habits, and response to any treatment. If any of these are seriously failing, then you may need to seek further advice from your vet about having your pet “put to sleep”.

Your vet will explain euthanasia to you before the procedure begins and is only likely to recommend euthanasia if they feel that it is the best choice. Don’t shy away from asking the veterinarian for any clarification if there is something that you do not understand.

Sedating and Administering the Euthanasia Solution

It has become common practice to give the animal a sedative before the actual euthanasia solution injection. Most veterinarians administer a sedative or tranquilizer, when presented for euthanasia at the animal hospital. 

The sedative allows the pet to enter into what is known as a “twilight zone,” allowing the animal a peaceful passage devoid of anxiety and fear. This ensures that the pet is relaxed and restful before the euthanasia procedure.

The tranquilizer may be injected with a needle via a canula into the vein or taken orally as a pill. Dependant upon which method is used it can take a couple of minutes to about 15 minutes for any sedative to help the animal relax, dependant upon what the veterinarian is using and what type of pet you have.

Dog With Cannula
A Cannula is inserted into your pets leg to enable easy addition of sedatives and/or a Euthanasia drug

To administer the euthanasia solution, the vet needs to locate a vein in the animal’s body which is where it is useful to use the canula. The solution is specially made for fast and painless action but must be intravenously administered. This makes it necessary for your pet to be calm and relaxed.

Therefore, when the veterinarian requests permission to sedate the animal, understand that the request is made to accomplish the task humanely. If the animal is aggressive, defensive, uncooperative, afraid, or even fractious, the vet may not be able to carry out the euthanasia procedure properly.

The Last Moments Under Euthanasia

Within 6-12 seconds after injecting the euthanasia solution, the animal usually takes a slightly deeper breath as the body relaxes, gradually growing weaker and finally lapsing into what seems like deep sleep. The deep sleep state is what has given rise to the use of the phrase, “to put to sleep.”

Vet With Pet
Putting your pet to sleep is a peaceful process

Although completely unconscious, your pet may continue taking a few more breaths before they cease to make any movement. After administering the solution and the cessation of all movement, the vet will listen to the pet’s heart to confirm the death. He will then let you know that your pet has passed on. The vet will then likely give you a few moments to be alone with your beloved pet.

Please note that your pet’s body may release feces, urine, and other bodily fluids upon death.

This happens because all the muscles have relaxed. It is also essential to know that your pet’s eyes may remain open after death. Sometimes, there are muscle spasms or odd sounds as the energy and air leave the body.

This is part of what happens after death and does not mean that your beloved pet is still alive.

Your veterinarian or other clinical staff will help to clean your departed friend and remove any intravenous cannula. Remember that often, pet owners experience profound and complex grief reactions after a pet is euthanized. The good thing is that veterinary staff are well-versed in assisting grieving pet owners at this critical time. 

The Process after Pet Euthanasia

It can be pretty stressful when you have to decide to say goodbye to a beloved dog. Anxiety levels are often higher if you don’t understand what happens during the euthanasia procedure. Euthanasia in animals is often called “putting down” or “putting to sleep.” It’s a personal choice whether or not you want to be present in the surgery room when your vet administers the euthanasia solution to your pet.

Many pet owners have expressed regret for not being there during their pet’s last moments, feeling like they abandoned their beloved pet at a crucial time. This may create a sense of guilt that simply won’t go away.

Pet owners may choose to end an animal’s life because of severe, painful, or untreatable conditions. While euthanasia offers a painless and quick death, the decision to have the procedure carried out can wreak guilt on the part of a pet owner and complicate grieving.

Some bereaved pet owners have been known to experience physical symptoms that include sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal distress, trembling, dizziness, and psychological issues such as anxiety or depression. So, critically think over how you are likely to feel long after your dog has been put down.

Many pet owners think they cannot cope with witnessing the passing of their friend. The fact is that no one feels comfortable with death, including your veterinarian and other animal hospital staff. If your dog is being put down, don’t feel ashamed if you are unable to stay in the room.

Coping with the Loss of your Pet

To put your beloved family pet down is heart-breaking. The loss is bound to leave you and your family with a sense of loss. It is crucial to appreciate that grieving is completely normal considering the circumstance. You have just said goodbye to a much-loved family member, and everyone will have their way of coping with the loss and saying goodbye.

When death robs us of a close relative or friend, the world around us helps us move through the process of grieving. Friends and family may draw closer together, we usually take time off from our daily routine or work, and generally, people offer their support when we need it most. However, the loss of a pet is often met with less support or sympathy. 


While members of the immediate family and your veterinarian may relate to the pain you feel and offer some support; most people expect you to simply move on or “get another pet”. The world around you may simply not understand that your beloved pet was not “just a dog,” that you cannot just buy a new one.

People who have had their pets put down can sometimes have a weak or non-existent support system, particularly if friends and family cannot appreciate the significance of their grief and loss.

To help mitigate your loss and grief, consider filling your time that you used to spend with your dog doing new constructive activities. Whenever possible, undertake such activities in the company of supportive buddies.

You can go to the park, play board games, or have dinner parties at your house—any activity that can occupy your mind and time. If you wish to immortalize the name of your deceased pet in some way then consider donating to a local animal-rights charity in their name. 

If you have kids in the house, make sure that you carefully explain the euthanasia decision to them and prepare them for the loss of their pet. Remember that this might be the first time your child is experiencing death within the family. This makes it very important growing step to help them navigate their way through the grieving process. 

If your family has other pets, you might also notice a change in their behavior – they might whimper a lot or appear to be searching for their friend. Dogs for instance that were previously submissive might become more dominant. No one knows for sure if dogs experience grief as humans do, but they indeed display a feeling of loss. They might also pick up on emotions from other members of the family. Therefore, accord them plenty of love and physical reassurance.

A cuddle for them may be just as good for you.

Final Thoughts on Euthanasia

While some pets pass on due to old age and in the comfort of their home, many others get injured, seriously ill, or experience an event that significantly reduces the quality of life as they age. Under such situations, it might be necessary to consider euthanizing your pet to spare it from suffering and pain.

As a young man I watched in sadness as my Grandfather passed away in much pain with cancer. As a family we were never given the “Humane” choice to end his suffering. As an owner of many pets I have always felt that putting my animals to sleep to help end any suffering is far more humane than the choice I was given with my Grandfather some 40 years ago.

When a pet owner makes the tough and emotional decision to help their pet die, many questions are bound to come up regarding the actual euthanasia process. Most animals die quickly with little pain and suffering within ten-fifteen seconds—some gasp after they die and may even twitch. 

Some pets defecate and urinate following death due to muscle relaxation, and their eyes remain open. You should not get alarmed as these are normal, mechanical responses. However, these reactions can be very upsetting if you decide to stay with your pets during the euthanasia procedure, especially if you have not been prepared in advance.

The decision to euthanize your pet may be difficult for anyone who loves animals, but the process itself is swift and painless for your pet. It grants your beloved pet a peaceful ending.

As a pet owner, you should feel free to ask your vet any lingering questions you might have concerning the euthanasia procedure. You must be as comfortable as possible with the decision you make about your beloved pet.

The grief process can be challenging for many people that have had their friends put down. Understanding who is at the greatest risk of grief is a crucial initial step, followed by sensitive interactions, empathic communications, and the provision of timely grief support.

Sources – One of the articles I read in putting this post together may be really helpful if you are struggling with your loss. If this is the case we here at Top Lap Dogs recommend that you take a look at this article from the Good Therapy Blog.


We also mentioned earlier about The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories – Here is the link to help you – IAOCC

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