Pet Euthanasia Gone Wrong

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My cat Yogi was 20 years old, but the very picture of health until a malignant tumor took up residence in his mouth. It grew quickly and began causing Yogi much discomfort – so much so that he wouldn’t eat. I didn’t want my buddy to get to the point of immense suffering.

I moved about a year ago, and had looked for a veterinarian with Fear Free or Low Stress Handling credentials. I found a clinic that advertised itself as a fear-free hospital within an hour’s drive, and had visited the clinic several times without being either impressed or dismayed. I made an appointment to have Yogi euthanized at this clinic.

When the veterinarian entered the examination room, I told him I’d like Yogi to be sedated before the euthanasia drug was administered. He indicated that this was fine, and left the room. He came back with an assistant and a tiny syringe, saying, “This will sting a little but within less than five minutes he’ll be completely sedated, though his eyes will remain open. Are you ready?” I said yes. He then said that after he gave the sedation injection, he’d leave and come back in five minutes to euthanize Yogi.

yogi the cat

I’m not new to this procedure, but it never gets easier. As a vet tech, I assisted in the euthanasia of hundreds of pets; I’ve also supported friends, family, and clients during the euthanasia of their pets, and was present when all of my own animals passed. But what I experienced that day haunts me.

Yogi was very weak, had recently stopped eating, and had failing kidneys. Many animals in this condition don’t even notice an injection. I expected that he might feel a little prick and then slowly go to sleep – but that’s not what happened.

When the vet injected the drug into the muscle of Yogi’s hind leg, my cat screamed the loudest meow I’ve ever heard and, with a power he hadn’t displayed in years, thrust himself backward almost off the end of the table. The vet said, “You can let him go.” What?! I heard the words but my protective instinct kicked in; I was not going to let my frail friend crash to the floor! I was able to prevent him from falling off the table, but then he launched himself forward and upward out of my arms, flailing toward the wall. The vet and the tech stepped away from Yogi, as I flew to the other side of the table, catching him mid-air so he wouldn’t crash into the wall. They then excused themselves and left the room!

I sat with a now-comatose cat, limp, with eyes dilated and glassy. I held his fragile, soft, furry body – the same body that had just acted like super cat – and wept. What the hell just happened? I was in shock; the peaceful end I had hoped my friend would experience had instead turned hideously painful and traumatic.

A few minutes later, the vet and tech came back in, to give the final injection in a vein in Yogi’s hind leg. Within a minute, my boy was on his way to getting his wings to soar. As for me, the shock of Yogi’s last moments kept me silent except to say thank you as I picked up Yogi’s lifeless body to take home to bury.

That night, I couldn’t sleep, thinking how I betrayed my companion of 20 years by holding him while someone hurt and terrified him. I couldn’t shake the vision of Yogi’s last moments. Since I’d never experienced such a horrific euthanasia, I thought it was an anomaly – that his reaction was rare – and I vowed to disallow that drug, whatever it was, from being used on any of my animals again.

Horror Redux

Sadly, a few months later I would be facing another end-of-life decision, this time for a dear friend’s pet. My friend had passed away, and her spouse was having a tough time grieving her loss while caring for the special-needs dogs she left behind. In her honor, I asked if I could help care for the two senior dogs: Hopper, a 17-year-old, deaf, blind Chihuahua; and Buddy, a nine-year-old dog who was disabled with a spinal injury. My friend’s husband agreed, and I took them into my home.

It soon became clear to me that Hopper was failing. After a lengthy conversation with my friend’s spouse, we decided that it was time to let Hopper go, before his suffering was unbearable. Since I thought what happened with Yogi was an anomaly, I called the same veterinary practice to make an appointment to euthanize Hopper. Still, I planned to ask the veterinarian to use a different drug to sedate Hopper, so that the experience would be like all the other euthanasias I had witnessed. In addition, when I made the appointment, I asked for a sedative that I could give Hopper before we ever even got to the veterinary hospital; this little guy was blind and deaf and very vulnerable in his dark and silent world, and I wanted to give him all the help I could.

Hopper was very relaxed in my arms as we waited in the exam room. The veterinarian entered, and asked if I wanted to sedate Hopper further before administering the euthanasia drug. I said yes – but added that I didn’t want him to use the same drug that he used with Yogi.

The doctor responded that it should be fine for Hopper, because it’s harder on cats than dogs; just a little prick and in a few minutes he’d be completely sedated. I was stunned, thinking, “Wow, really?! You know it’s harder on cats than dogs and you gave it to my cat anyway?” But at the same time, I had this tiny dog in my arms on the table, not knowing what was going on, unable to see or hear, pressing his body against mine. I didn’t want to prolong the experience. I decided to trust the doctor’s word, that dogs don’t react to this drug like cats do, and since Hopper was already relaxed from the sedative I’d given him, it would be fine. So I said, “Okay, if you think the same thing won’t happen, then it’s time; yes, go ahead.”

I held Hopper while the vet gave the injection into the muscle in Hopper’s hind leg. There was no reaction from Hopper, thank goodness. Phew! The vet left the room.

Five minutes later, Hopper was still sitting in my arms, as awake and relaxed as he had been since we arrived. The vet came back in and looked at Hopper, amazed that he wasn’t fully sedated. “Wow,” said the doctor. “I’ve never seen this before. He’s not sedated at all.”

“No, he’s not,” I said. “Perhaps the syringe was empty?”

The vet looked at me as if I was crazy. He said, “NO, I gave the injection.” I remained silent, having said what I thought to be true, that perhaps the syringe was empty. He said he would go get another injection.

When the vet came back in, I suggested that he inject Hopper’s other hind leg. He agreed, saying, “There must have been no circulation in that other leg and that’s why the first injection didn’t work.”

I held Hopper while the vet gave the injection – and this time, Hopper screamed, became Superman, and started biting at the air. Blind, he was in a state of sheer panic and pain as I held him, snapping wildly. I looked into the vet’s eyes with fire in mine. He left the room, saying he’d be back in five minutes.

The moment the door closed, Hopper collapsed in my arms. I held him close, apologizing to him and crying my eyes out. I couldn’t believe this happened again. I was stricken because I had let Hopper down – I had let down his owner, my deceased friend! I was reliving Yogi’s horrible experience, and beside myself with anger and despair – and it still wasn’t over for Hopper.

Five of the longest minutes later, the vet and the technician came back in. They said nothing as they worked together to insert the needle into a vein and administer the euthanasia drug. I wept quietly, petting Hopper and silently imploring him to forgive me. Hopper’s end, like Yogi’s, wasn’t painless nor fear-free. I felt this was a heinous crime and I was complicit.It was all I could do to drive home afterward, taking deep breaths to calm myself, wiping the tears that kept falling down my face, and talking out loud to both of my deceased friends, Hopper and his owner, the whole way. It was gibberish chatter to help me make it home.

I feel terrible that it took two awful experiences to investigate the drug that caused such pain and terror in the two animals in my care, as well as the credentials behind the “fear free” claim made on the veterinary practice’s website, only to learn that the drug used in this way is not remotely the best protocol, and that no one in the veterinary hospital had any actual training or credentials in fear-free or low-stress handling.

After being upset to the point of immobility for days, I decided that I could, at the very least, try to prevent any other animals from suffering needlessly before being euthanized while their loving guardians witness their pain and terror. I don’t want any animal to go through what mine did, or any guardian to have this haunting memory seared into their minds for the rest of their lives.

I am now on a mission to spread information about ways to do everything a guardian can do to ensure a good death for her beloved animal companions when it’s time.

174 COMMENTS

          • She explained this in the article. Remember, she drove an hour trying to find a compassionate vet. She did all she could.

          • And the award for self righteous, blind and deaf moron would be YOU Jackie! You have obviously never been in the position and so foolishly think you would do any different you pompous ass!

          • Agreed. It was a horrific mistake. How could you do that twice? I know the author feels bad, but you have to research before hand. At least after the first mistake. I’m glad they wrote about it.

        • I would like to know what injection can be used that is pain free, and does not “sting”. I’ve been trying to research it, but have not found a satisfactory answer yet. The same thing happened to my cat….

          • And mine too! The writer speaks from a position of authority as having witnessed hundreds of mercy deaths. My experience euthanizing my cat at home (to avoid a traumatic car drive) suggests maybe what the author describes is absolutely normal. I believe my cat hated the vet, and she knew what shots felt like. When she got the sedation shot at home, she immediately reacted by scrambling away (even though she could barely move prior to it). I don’t blame the vet nor do I blame the medicine. Vets love animals. They wouldn’t devote their lives to such work if they weren’t pet lovers.

          • My vet uses propofol (spelling?). It works beautifully. The animal is completely unaware of needles or anything else. That vet is an idiot!! Too bad she went to him for horror show number 2.

      • I have had the same experience with my cat. As he’s was so traumatised by going to the vet I decided to have him euthanised at home. The vet came and Finley was sleeping in his favourite place in the garden. I sat down next to him and held him while the injection was administered. Then for the next 5 minutes I ended up holding him down while he went into complete panic. The guilt is overwhelming and my heart is broken.

        • I too had the same experience at home with my cat and I’m having a hard time dealing with the sense of betrayal and guilt. What information should one know before deciding on a vet for this? What are the best drugs/procedures?

        • My 10yo cat that had diabetes blood sugar of 513 and the vet I go to gave her a shot and it seemed like it was painless I felt so bad for putting her down like I was deciding when she would go not her. The only thing that was weird she threw up but I knew she was gone when the purring stopped she was such a awesome cat first cat I ever loved.

      • Is there any way to complain about the effects of this drug? I too am suffering from the shock and guilt of what happened to my cat. I have been online and have found no links. I have been in touch with my vet who recommended the at home service but as yet have had no reply from her.

      • Jill, I just took my 12 year old Lhasa Apso, Piper, to be euthanized last Friday (May 14th, 2021). My dog had adenocarcinoma of the lungs, and her breathing had become labored and painful. It was time. Because of CV protocol, we had to wait in the car while the vet gave my baby the anesthetic, and then they brought her out. What I saw in the side mirror as the vet tech brought her out will forever be burned into my retina. The fear emblazoned in my precious pup’s eyes and how tense her body was, told me she was FAR from relaxed. She looked as though she was trying to escape. My heart sank. The vet tech laid her in my arms, placed a blanket over her, and in under one minute my dog died as I held her. They tried to tell me it only appeared that she was dead from the anesthetic, but her breathing had completely stopped, her eyes lost all life, and all color inside her mouth gone. She was gone. I suppose it was better that I was holding her when she left this world, but I will never get that image of how scared she must have been when they initially injected her with whatever it was that was supposed to relax her prior to the second phase of euthanasia.

        Needless to say, I will be looking for a new vet.

        • This is so traumatic to go through this. I believe my Boy was in a coma like state, barely breathing when gave him the second injection. The sedative is supposed to slowly just put them to sleep, so why are our Babies having this kind of reactions to it. Kabuki was calm when she gave him the first one. I don’t believe he was so out of it that he didn’t feel any pain and that his reaction was an involuntary reflex. With that kind of pain in his brain I think anyone would even wake up from sedation. It’s why he had that reaction, bc he felt it. I pray we can find peace. Blessings

          • REPLY TO ALL LOVING OWNERS OF OLD AND SICK PETS. MY METHOD FOR EUTHANIZING MY PETS IS A RIFLE shot OF .22 CALIBRE TO THE SIDE OF THE HEAD WHEN THE PET IS NOT LOOKING. THEY NEVER KNOW WHAT HAPPENED AND SUFFER NO FEAR NOR ANXIETY.
            I know most of you could not do that but are just looking out for your own feelings. I Firmly believe a loved pet is due a pain free death in payment for however many years it has given you. If you don’t have it in you to do this get someone that does. The pet deserves it.

      • It’s 3:30 am and I can’t fall asleep thinking about the extreme pain my 16 year old dog, Kabuki must’ve felt. I looked for someone that was compassionate. I didn’t want to take Kabuki to a clinic. Vet has great reviews. She was almost two hours away from my house, but I liked the idea of being at a park than a clinic. We ended up doing it in the vehicle where he was comfortable, and since he was in pain from his arthritis and he was laying calmly on his bed I thought it was best. I wanted so much for him to go peacefully.
        She administered the first injection between his shoulder blades, I expected him to start falling asleep, she said it would be about ten minutes to do the second injection. Almost immediately after she gave the sedative Kabuki started like cluttering his teeth, snapping at the air, I literally saw the top of his head throbbing. Then it was like he had gone into a coma, I wiped just a little bit of drool from his mouth, I think he was trying to breath. I don’t think ten minutes went by and she came back to vehicle to shave his leg, Kabuki was taking like shallow breaths, I asked her about it and she said he was trying to die on his own just as he was shaving his leg.
        There was no reaction with the second shot. I remember telling him after the first injection that I loved him and how sorry I was. He was dying, not falling asleep. I asked her what kind of sedative she gave him, she said it was like a cocktail of four meds, that vets have their own concoctions I think it’s what she said.
        I blame myself bc I told her I feared how he would struggle bc for about a week that we had been trying to get meds in him he didn’t want me close to his mouth or his face, that he wasn’t trusting me. Two days before this horrible episode, I stopped forcing anything in his mouth, I was sleeping with him, walking him outside to the bathroom, he didn’t want to soil his bed. I brushed him, put hot compress on his back, kissed him, and the whole way there he had his head on my arms. I think she probably used a huge dose of the drug because of what I said to her about his behavior, not trusting people.
        I texted her afterwards to ask why that had happened, she said it was like involuntary reflexes, and that she had anesthesized him and the brain stops functioning first and then the organs go. That when he did that he was already asleep. The top of his head was practically raising up and down while he was snapping at the air, he abruptly lifted his head and did it for a few seconds, and I just thought about people in the electric chair. When I wrote her I asked if he had maybe had a seizure. She said no. My poor Baby also had stage three kidney disease, his arthritis had flared up two weeks prior, wasn’t eating but a few bites, he weighed 25 lbs. He had probably been abused before I rescued him. He loved me so much. I hope he felt my love before he was put through that unbearable pain.

  1. I just had to put my 10 year old dog Ginger down 2 days ago. They gave her the sedative and she yelped and almost tried to bite. It was extremely painful and they seemed worried and said they would come back in 20 minutes. She looked at me with glazed eyes. She was still alert. They gave her another dose of sedative and she fought it moving her head back and forth like she was telling me no she isn’t ready. A few minutes later the sedative made her tongue shrivel up and she started snoring with her eyes open. They gave her the final injection and it took maybe a minute and she was gone. It was horrific to watch and I am traumatized. She was not at peace and died a horrible death. I loved her so much and feel so guilty! Thank you for your post! I don’t know if I will ever get over being an accomplice to this “murder”. This went horribly wrong and I hope it’s not the norm

    • Jason – I feel your pain and am so sorry for what happened to you and Ginger! Something very similar happened to me three weeks ago with my beloved cat. I too feel like an accomplice to murder.

      If you want to talk more about this with me, please reach out to the author of this article, Jill Breitner, via her website, and tell her you’d like to get in touch with me. https://shewhisperer.com/contact/ I have already been in touch with Jill about this. She will give me your private contact info and then we can talk. I want to do what I can to let people know they aren’t alone. I also want to do what I can to ensure this doesn’t happen to others. Jill is working on that too. For now, I recommend reading the companion article by Jill to the one above: (they were originally published in the hard copy version of the magazine as one article.)

      https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/care/saying-goodbye/euthanizing-an-old-dog-how-it-works-and-what-to-expect/

      Again, I’m so sorry for what happened to Ginger and you. I really feel for you and know exactly what you’re going through. You are fully justified in being so upset, and my heart breaks for both of you.

    • Dear Jason, I am very sorry for your loss. Your beloved dog would not want you to be burdened with traumatic memories. You were doing your best for her and putting your trust in the hands of the vet.
      I hope in time happy memories will take the place of grief.

      • I recently put my fur baby dog of 15 Scooter, to sleep. He was deaf blind and in extreme pain now from severe arthritis. I was traumatized before going in, but due to covid 19 they took him off me at the door to put an IV in. I would be called in after the IV was in. I had already Given him a sedation pill (that I picked up from the vet the day before) to help as once upon a time loved the car, now he was traumatized due to his deafness & blindness. So he slept on the way. When they told me I could finally go in before they would administer the euthanasia shot, the assistant said they give him more sedation. I wondered why? Maybe it was this bad drug and that’s the reason I wasn’t allowed in yet. In any event I’m going to hope they never gave him something that would make him scream or jump up from pain or fear. The Dr finally came in and administered the euthanasia through the IV and then checked his heart. He then said “ you have my condolences this little guy just left this world” I cried uncontrollably but they left me there alone with him for as long as I wanted. Im sorry most of you’ve had an awful experience. Either way is traumatizing and my heart is broken. 💔

    • This same thing happened to me when I had to euthanize my precious 15 yr old baby. I was told that she would be given a sedative and after a while they would give her the medicine to stop her heart. When she was injected with the sedative? she screamed so loud and bit back at me because I was standing at the end of the table holding her head and talking softly and kissing her head. It was horrible! It was so painful. I was so upset at that point , I ask how long I had to hold and love her! I was told that she was already dead…No heart beat! I thought I would die myself!

      • Something similar happened to me this morning. My cat fought with the catheter on and had 2 heart attacks fighting me trying to calm her down. She didn’t even get the peaceful death I was trying to give her. I failed her and I’m devestated.

        • I am so so so sorry. The guilt and sadness are overwhelming. Please reply if you want to talk – my friends n family took the “move on, we’ve all put pets to sleep before” approach despite my pleadings to share how i was feeling and that what happened with my boy was not okay or anything like any time I have been through this before. Im not sure about leaving my email. My reddit is southfantastic. My longer story is below. Just wanted to reply to you too. Please msg me I am happy to help.
          And anyone else who sees this and wants to chat please do so. Hugs to you.

          • I have questions I need answered, I need some type of understanding. I had to put my cat down last weekend, it was not anything like my other 2 cats years prior.
            I have tremendous guilt asking for a sedative prior for him to the euthanasia. My other cats had it, but this was so different. I had to wait in the car because of CV. When they brought me in my cat had wild eyes, wide open and stayed that way. I wanted him on my lap, we tried but he literally was in a panic state and tried to jump off. We put him back on the blanket on the table. He looked fearful, his eyes wild looking, I don’t believe he knew I was there. He did not seem relaxed at all, had his head up. He has been in there almost 1/2 hour before I was allowed to go in. Why did that happen? Was he in pain? He was very old, I would of been accepting knowing he had to pass, but not like that. Please if any information to knowing why this happened. I feel sick to my stomach.

    • Jason, please find a different vet. I’ve had a bad experience like yours. It was awful. I switched vets and the others were calm and peaceful. My last dog passed while I held her on my lap wrapped in a quilt, snuggling on a couch licking turkey baby food from my hand.

    • I am completely sympathetic to how you are feeling… I to, went through the hell of watching my little blind chi have what was suppose to be peaceful..a traumatic experience before he passed… he didnt know what was going on… he was blind and going through dementia and would have been terrified…. as his protector I couldnt do anything except say I am so sorry .. 3 weeks later I am still saying I am sorry Herb..and probably will be for the rest of my life …

      • I have had same terrible experience on Friday with my beautifully gentle sweet little 18year old cat who loved and trusted me totally; I have such feelings of overwhelming guilt for not protecting him from so much pain My heart broke on Friday

    • Jason…I feel the same guilt…I just can’t forgive myself for what I did to my sweet little boy. He was old and had heart failure. He got really sick and he couldnt swallow food so i was unable to get his meds in him. His heart was too big to pump effectively and fluid built up in his lungs so his breathing was very shallow…..but he still perked up whenever he saw me or heard me…he would follow me through the house at a slow pace. He slept in my arms all night and part of the days towards the end. He lived to love me and I love him to the edge of the universe and back…I wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t saved my life. A few years ago I had fallen asleep in my camper with a propane sunflower heater going. Doj woke me up and I felt really sick…my muscles were sore and weak and I had a horrible headache. I let him outside because i thought he needed to potty but he just stood outside the door and whined after i closed it. (It was cold and i didnt want to lose the heat). After a minute I put my coat on and went to see what he was crying about since he refused to come back inside. When the fresh air hit me I knew that I had been lacking oxygen. I was able to think about the situation clearly and that day he became my hero. When i brought him to the vet a couple weeks ago i thought i was saving him from suffering, but his eyes said different…he only wanted to go home and have a nap in my arms…his head shot up when I went to move from standing at his back to being face to face with him before the injection. As if he was saying “are we leaving mom?” When he was diagnosed with heart failure I begged him not to give up…and I promised him I would never give up on him. I let him down that day…i should have scooped him up and brought him home and just been with him until he was ready on his own…I should have tried harder to get his medication in him. I regret what I did and what I didnt do. I wake up screaming his name still. Not every night but most…I killed the purest love I will ever know and I feel like I don’t deserve to live now.

      • Meg your story is my story down to the last letter. I didn’t think it would hurt as much as it has I have never in my life felt so lost and regretful my heart just hurts so badly and I’m overwhelmed with guilt. I had an angel with the purest heart and the love he had for me was real he was the only one where no matter what he loved me and I could do no wrong.