Can You Give Me Something to Put My Pet "To Sleep" With

When it is time to consider euthanasia (putting a pet "to sleep"), many people wish for a pill or something they can give their pet at home. It is very difficult to bring a pet to the veterinarian's office knowing that they will not come home. This is even more true when a pet is frightened at the vet's or shows obvious reluctance to go. Owners are concerned that the staff at the veterinary hospital may not understand their grief or that they will be embarrassed if they cry or get emotional over their pet's death.

The staff at most veterinary hospitals is very understanding about the importance of pets. When a pet dies, a friend dies. It doesn't seem to matter if our friends are four-footed or two-footed, we still grieve for them. After all, a friend is always hard to lose.

Unfortunately, veterinarians can not dispense medications that will kill a pet. Almost any medication that would do this would also kill a human being. Medications with this sort of effect are carefully controlled for obvious reasons. In addition, all of the euthanasia medications that we know of are injections which work best when given intravenously. The risk of an inexperienced user who does not have someone to help restrain their pet properly making an injection error is high enough to be very troubling. A euthanasia injection which accidentally ended up in the owner or owner's assistant would be a great legal liability. We would like very much to make each pet's passing as easy and as painless as possible but it is not possible at the present time for veterinarians to dispense a simple at home euthanasia solution.

Mike Richards DVM


Q: I didn't look very hard at your site, but just put a 15-year-old cat to sleep today (kidney failure). For whatever reason, I'm very curious about the procedure and am amazed at its seemingly instantaneous result. The cat had a shot of blue fluid and we didn't ask questions at the time. I'm sure many other pet owners want to know what happens in this case. I'm sure it's humane, but you wonder what the cat experienced and just what happens. Thanks.

A: This is a very good question and no one has asked it yet. There are variations in the agents used for euthanasia but most of them are a concentrated barbituate, so I will answer the question based on what happens when these are injected.

Thiobarbituates have three effects that can induce death. They are fairly potent depressives of the central nervous system activity in the brain stem, which leads to depression of all bodily functions controlled by the brain stem. This action is responsible for the loss of consciousness associated with barbituates in adequate doses. In large doses barbituates have a direct depressant effect on the heart muscle as well and will cause the heart to cease to function. This is probably the actual cause of death in most instances when barbituates are used for euthanasia. There is also a respiratory depression associated with barbituates but it is probably not a factor since the other effects are more rapid. In surgical uses of barbituates this can be a very important factor and must be monitored closely.

As far as we can tell, unconsciousness precedes the cardiac depression and this is painless, as far as can be determined.

I am sorry to hear or your loss and hope that this helps make it a little easier, at least in understanding what happened.

Mike Richards, DVM

Considering Euthanasia for Cats with Feline Leukemia

Q: I found out today my cat has feline leukemia. The vet wants to put him to sleep because he is suffering and only has 2 to 3 months to live. Is there anything that will help my sweet little boy I don't want to lose him. I also. have other cats should I have them tested?

A: Pat-

Whether or not to consider euthanasia for cats with feline leukemia depends a lot on their condition and on the circumstances of their lifestyle. It is important to confine cats with this condition so that they do not infect other cats. If this is possible then living with the condition seems reasonable to me. Most cats that are persistently viremic (have positive feline leukemia tests on at least two tests, taken at least 3 weeks apart), will eventually die from complications associated with the virus. Many can be maintained with a good quality of life for several years before this happens, though. Aggressive treatment of other conditions that affect them, maintaining good nutrition and providing as stress free a lifestyle as is possible all help to prolong their lifespan.

Without knowing if your cat has a specific problem, such as difficulty breathing, anemia, secondary cancers or other problems that are life-threatening, it is hard to tell you what you can currently do. If you remain unsure about the best course of action it would be best to get a second opinion. When euthanasia is recommended and you are unsure about the need for it that is almost an automatic reason to get another opinion.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...