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R.I.P. Sophie May Magnusson, May 1999 – Feb 20, 2013. You taught me so much about how to be a doctor, and a daddy. You will be missed. ♥ :(

This is my fourth clinic post about euthanasia. Why is euthanasia such a big deal? Because euthanasia is a veterinarian’s most powerful tool; used judiciously, euthanasia gives the ultimate release from pain. Euthanasia has the capability of relieving more suffering than all other drugs or surgeries or procedures or treatments combined. When pain can no longer be controlled, when appetite can no longer be encouraged, when activity loses out to inactivity, euthanasia may be the last, kindest gift you give to your furry family member.

How do I know when it’s time to euthanize my pet?

The decision to put your treasured companion “to sleep” is difficult in all cases, but some are worse than others. It’s easier to choose to end your pet’s misery when they are clearly in distress, not so easy when you’ve watched them struggle with a chronic illness for weeks or months before hand, and every day is a struggle. Combine this with our tendency to humanize our pets, and it’s easy to see how euthanasia might remind us of our own mortality.

Euthanasia is the ultimate relief of suffering. That final sigh when an ill pet finally relaxes and lets go of all their worldly aches and pains often brings peace, both to owner and patient. It’s only after we finally let go that we are able to acknowledge how much we’ve gone through with a pet.

Most veterinarians have a few key symptoms that we use to signal it’s “time” for euthanasia. In Sophie’s case, we monitored a slow but steady decrease in weight (from over 40 pounds to under 28), but took action when she hadn’t eaten her food in three days. Because all she was eating was treats and human foods, her stools became loose and she was getting an upset stomach, signaling that even though calories were being consumed, they weren’t really doing any good.

Here are some further Quality of Life Scale guidelines that may help you decide

Click on the image to download a .pdf version

Click on the image to download a .pdf version

If euthanasia is in your pet’s near future, consider these questions.

Here at Leo’s Pet Care, we basically ask clients to consider two questions prior to euthanasia: first, who (if anyone) do you want to be present when the injection is given? Do you want family to be there? You are usually welcome to be present, but you certainly don’t have to be. Veterinary staff are all pet lovers, and will take the most gentle care of your beloved family member even if you are unable or unwilling to stay in the building when euthanasia is performed.

Second, how would you like your pet’s body taken care of? Will you be taking your pet home with you to be buried, or do you want them to be cremated? If you choose cremation, do you want your pet’s ashes returned in a wooden urn, or would you prefer them to be spread over a memorial garden?

Because the procedure itself is emotionally draining for both client and veterinarian, some practitioners have chosen to set rules to make the process easier. Some recommend (or require) sedation beforehand, some ask that owners not be present, others will allow as many family members to participate as you want. Many veterinarians will offer you some time to be alone with your pet after death, if you wish. If you are concerned about any of these details or have particular wishes, please discuss them with your veterinarian in advance.

Leo’s Pet Care Rules of Euthanasia:

No, we don’t sedate pets beforehand. Why not? Because it drops their blood pressure and makes it even HARDER to find a vein, which is difficult enough in old and decrepit animals.

Yes, you can stay with your pet, and you can bring friends and family. But we have one request: Most times we will insist you let us take your pet to our treatment room for placement of an intravenous catheter, so that the euthanasia injection gets into the vein the first time. (see above re: hard to find a vein). Placing that catheter is the most technically difficult part of the euthanasia procedure, and most clients don’t want to watch their beloved pet get stuck in the arm on their final day.

Yes, you can visit as long as you like after euthanasia is performed. We usually book extra time after a euthanasia to ensure you can stay in the room with your pet until you are collected enough that it is safe for you to get behind the wheel and drive home. Trust us, we cry too. In fact, we’ll probably cry after you leave. Everybody cries. We have lots of tissues here.

What happens to my pet after euthanasia?

There are basically three different options when one is considering body aftercare for a pet. Home burial, cremation with ashes returned, or cremation with no ashes returned.

Aftercare option #1 – Home Burial

Home burial is arguably the most “romantic” after care option for your pet, because it feels like you’re really DOING something to actively ensure a peaceful resting place. While I can certainly respect home burial for some people, consider this:

1. The Indiana frost line / frost depth is 36″. That is the depth a hole must be dug to avoid seasonal freeze/thaw changes, and is the MINIMUM depth I recommend burying a pet (recall the human term “six feet under”).

Digging a truly adequate 36″-plus deep hole takes a LOT of work, and a LOT of time, and depending on the weather, may be physically impossible.

2. Ground water supplies may be contaminated if pets are buried improperly.

3. Burial of a pet in your yard is illegal in Indianapolis. According to Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, the body charged with enforcing the animal laws of Marion county, Indiana (including the city of Indianapolis), animal burial is a “violation of ordinance”. Refer to Sec. 531-107. – Custody and disposition of dead animals, which states:

“It shall be unlawful for a person to allow the body, or parts thereof, of any dead animal to be kept, held, or disposed of in violation of this section, as follows:
(4) No person shall possess, keep, use or dispose of anywhere in the city, a dead animal or parts thereof, or offal of a live animal in any manner that creates offensive odors or sights, or constitutes a public nuisance which affects health and comfort in any respect.”

In the words of Indianapolis Animal Care and Control: “if a dead animal were found buried on your property, you would be found in violation of this section of the code”.

Aftercare Option #2 – Cremation with ashes returned aka Private Cremation

There are at least three well-known animal / pet cremation outfits in Indianapolis. All of them offer basically two levels of service: group cremation and private cremation.

Naturally, we’ve partnered with the best company, Pet Rest Incorporated, out of Ossian, IN – a family owned and operated business, the FIRST of its kind in Indiana, originally founded in 1984.

Private cremation suggests (but does not necessarily guarantee) that:

a) Your pet will be the ONLY one cremated at a time, and

b) Your pet’s ashes – and NOBODY ELSE’s – should be returned to you in an individual container. From there, you can either bury the ashes, or “spread” them somewhere, or store them.

Private cremation usually adds $200 – $300 to your cremation bill.

Aftercare Option #3 – Cremation with ashes NOT returned aka Group Cremation

Group cremation means two things:

a) Your pet will be cremated along with other pets, because that’s the most efficient use of the crematory’s resources, and

b) Your pet’s ashes will then be buried in accordance with the crematory’s rules. Sometimes that means inside a city cemetery, sometimes in a private garden. Pet Rest’s gardens are a truly beautiful place to visit, should you choose to do so after burial.


It is an unavoidable fact of nature that decomposition begins immediately after death. It is also an unavoidable fact, in 99% of cases, that the cremation company CANNOT come the same day to pick up your pet – our practice, for instance, has partnered with a company that picks up and drops off only ONCE weekly. In the meantime, therefore, your pet will likely be stored in an extra-thick plastic “body bag” in an ordinary household deep freeze, until the cremation people pick them up. I don’t like it any more than you do, but the alternative – NOT freezing your pet – is unpalatable at best, impossible at worst. Humans are similarly kept in “cold storage” in the morgue prior to burial.

Naturally, if you don’t like the idea of keeping your deceased pet’s body in a freezer prior to being cremated, there are companies in Indianapolis that – for an extra fee – MAY be able to come pick up your pet from the clinic that same day. Advance notice and special arrangements are, obviously, required, so please let us know your particular preference.

Final thoughts on euthanasia

I find my clients have a much easier time accepting euthanasia and the death of their pet when they realize they’re doing their poor old dog or cat a favor. Please, don’t ever feel guilty about ending your pet’s life peacefully, if that’s what you decide to do. Most times it’s not in the pet’s best interest for you to extend her life until the last possible second. Or maybe it is. Euthanasia is a choice you have. But my point is, I urge you to DECIDE what kind of person you want to be, don’t just let life (and death) happen to you or your pet. Even if your CHOICE is to help (or simply allow) your pet live as long as possible, recognize that you’re making a CHOICE. Doing nothing is still a CHOICE.

Regardless of the steps taken to put your pet to rest (and every veterinarian is different in this regard) you DO have options when it comes to how the procedure is performed, who performs it, and who is there when it’s done. You also have the right to decide what is done with your pet after they die. If you or a member of your friends or family is struggling with a euthanasia / end of life decision, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Leo’s Pet Care in Indianapolis at 317-721-7387.

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