Euthanasia, often called “putting a pet to sleep”, is the process of peacefully ending a pet’s life to prevent suffering. It is rare for pets to pass away peacefully during their sleep, and it is not advisable to wait for this to happen if we know that their quality of life is deteriorating, or they are in pain or distress.

Sometimes it is clear when euthanasia is needed, such as after a traumatic event, but for many pets there is a slow decline in health, and it is difficult to know when it is time to say goodbye. Ultimately, euthanasia should be considered when a pet’s quality of life has declined enough that they are no longer enjoying life. You know your pet better than anyone else, but our vets and nurses are all happy to discuss quality of life assessment with you as we understand this is not an easy decision to make.

What happens when a pet is euthanised?

Euthanasia in pets is performed by giving an overdose of an anaesthetic drug. This makes the pet feel very sleepy before they lose consciousness and their heart stops. There are different ways the injection can be given, depending on the type of pet and the situation. Most commonly, the injection is given into the blood stream or into an organ, in a pet who is conscious or sedated. The injection is not painful and takes effect within a few minutes. Your vet will explain what to expect before anything happens.

If appropriate, you will be asked whether you would like to stay with your pet for euthanasia. This is a personal choice, and some owners feel they cannot be present. In this case, the team will cuddle and reassure your pet as though they were our own. Rarely, it may not be suitable for you to be with your pet, such as after a major trauma or if your pet is under anaesthetic. Staying with your pet while they are euthanised can be discussed with your vet at the time.

What happens afterwards?

After euthanasia, the vet will confirm that your pet’s heart has stopped. Occasionally, a reflex in the body makes it look like the pet takes a deep breath after they have passed. This is not nice to see, but does not mean the euthanasia hasn’t been performed correctly. You are welcome to spend some time with your pet afterwards; even if you do not wish to see the euthanasia, you are welcome to return and sit with your pet after they have passed.

You will be asked to decide what you would like to do afterwards, but we recommend (where possible) that you consider your options prior to your pet’s euthanasia appointment. Many pet owners opt for their companion to be cremated. We will provide information about our partner pet or equine crematorium and guide you through your next steps to take. After euthanasia, your pet will be carefully stored at the veterinary practice, and may remain at the practice until our crematorium collects them. Alternatively, you may wish to take your companion directly to the crematorium, or request a priority collection service from your home or veterinary practice. The crematorium will support you in making arrangements for your pet, including the type of cremation service you would like (individual or communal), your choice of casket, keepsakes or memorials and ask whether you would like to say goodbye to your companion in a Remembrance Room before their cremation service. You can choose between a communal cremation, in which your pet is cremated alongside other animals, or a private cremation in which your pets' ashes are returned to you in a casket of your choosing. 

If you would prefer your pet to be buried rather than cremated, pets may legally be taken home for burial, provided you are able to do this on your own land, and the pet does not have an infectious disease that could pass to people.

Greiving for your pet

We understand that the loss of a pet affects everyone differently, but that it can be extremely difficult to process your feelings when we decide to euthanise a beloved family member. Some memebers of our team across our practices and pet crematoria have training in bereavement and are happy to speak to you at any point, or we recommend the grief counselling offered by the Blue Cross.

Support for children

For children, the experience of losing their life-long companion can feel overwhelming. Pets play an important role in a family, and for many young people, the loss of a pet may be their first experience of death.

You may wish to ask about our free booklet for children, Goodbye My Friend, which can be useful resource to work through as a family and provide a range of activities to focus on positive memories.


Please note that the content made available on this webpage is for general information purposes only. Whilst we try to ensure that at the time of writing all material is up to date and reflects industry standards, we make no representation, warranties or guarantees that the information made available is up to date, accurate or complete. Any reliance placed by yourselves is done so at your own risk.

Smiling golden retriever

Speak to a vet about bereavement support