Pet Euthanasia Gone Wrong


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.

yogi the cat

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.

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 the dog

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.


  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. 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.)

      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.

  2. Jason. I am so sorry for your loss. I had to put my 12 year old Doberman to sleep last night. I’m completely traumatized and feel like she was so scared. We had the vet come to our home to do the procedure. He told us to distract my dog as he gave the sedative and said she would be asleep within 15 minutes. A couple minutes later her eyes are wide open and she moving her head back and fourth looking at everyone around the room and looked so scared and sad. I had to hold on to her head and try to comfort herself. Then the vet gave her the second shot and I wasn’t even aware until I looked down and she was dead with her head in my arms. I can’t stop crying thinking she died in fear and pain. 🙁

    • Emily – I’m so very sorry about what happened with your dog, and how traumatizing this has been for you. Something similar and also extremely traumatizing happened with me and my cat a few weeks ago. Please see my comment reply to Jason above, and feel free to get in touch in the way I mentioned if you feel that would be helpful to you. My heart, condolences and thoughts are with you. ❤️

  3. About 6 years ago I had to put down my beloved Chihuahua, Olivia, due to her having uterine cancer. It was horrifying to see her bleed non stop and even more horrifying to wake up one morning and half of my pillow was drenched in blood from her. After a long debate my husband and I decided to have her put down. I made the appointment for the following day and stayed up all night with her on the couch watching tv. The next day we took her to the vet clinic and she was calm the entire time. My husband and I wanted to be in the room with her to keep her calm, but when they stuck the needle into her arm she just screamed and flailed which knocked the needle onto the floor. The vet got another needle and again as soon as he got it into her vein she screamed. I started crying uncontrollably so my husband told the vet that we needed just a minute and to wait. He took me outside so that I could compose myself for Olivia’s sake. When we went back into the room it was empty. No vet, no tech, and no Olivia. A few minutes later the vet comes walking into the room with my beloved dog limp in his arms. The vet said that he had to take her back to the crusher cage to put her down. I will never forgive myself for putting her through that terror and for not being there for her during her final minutes.

    • Adriana, That is heartbreaking and horrifying that the vet did that without your knowledge first! THE CRUSHER CAGE OMG! I am so sorry you had to go thru that.
      I just put my beloved Bruschi to sleep yesterday and they gave him that shot of Telazol and he was in so much pain and horrified that I feel traumatized from the experience. I can’t imagine what you felt. I’m so sorry that happened

  4. All the stories of terrible euthanasia are absolutely heartbreaking I am in tears reading these I had my dog put to sleep 6 weeks ago the vet tried twice to put the needle in his front leg in which he cried and struggled with then sent him into a stressful moan which he usually did when he got lost in the house or garden due to him having dementia but at least the vet gave him a sedative which made him sleep deeply before he gave him the final injection my heart goes out to everyone who experienced their pet in pain and destress in their final moments I still re live that day and always will

  5. This is all so upsetting… unbelievably so… I had the same experience with my geriatric dog who had had dementia for a few years prior. Wouldn’t it make more sense to anesthetize the animals as is done for surgery rather than to “so-called” sedate them with an extremely painful drug? How does that approach make any sense. My family thought it would be less traumatic to have the vet come to the house but it wasn’t upon hearing this poor dog (nearly blind and deaf) screaming in pain… how can that be a sedative?! My son’s G.S.D. had to be sedated for months after surgery via some tablet medication and there was no issue of pain involved. What about that? So what is a non-painful and traumatic approach? I need to know soon because my Chihuahua is failing (still undiagnosed other than sudden onset diabetes). Honestly it would be more humane to cut an artery and have a dog bleed to death than these other approaches. I only say that because I nearly bled to death myself after childbirth and it was very peaceful and un-traumatic (except for everyone else in the room – especially my husband).

    • Saroj – I’m SO sorry to hear about the horror that happened with the euthanasia of your older dog with dementia. So tragic and wrong! Sadly I can relate to this as my beloved cat experienced a great deal of emotional and physical pain and suffering during her euthanasia a couple of months ago. (Which could have been avoided using other methods.) Yes, any euthanasia sedative (or action) that causes pain or distress is completely unacceptable.

      To best prepare for a euthanasia of your chihuahua that will NOT cause pain or distress:

      1. Check out the helpful advice in the companion article to this one by the same author, on this website, called Euthanizing an Old Dog: How it Works and What to Expect. Search this site for it, or see a link to it in another one of my comments above.

      2. Find a vet who specializes in peaceful and pain-free pet euthanasias. There are many mobile services that focus on this specialty and can do the service at your home. (Note: Just because a service focuses on at-home euthanasia, doesn’t mean their focus is on making it peaceful and pain-free. Make sure that that is their specialty.) Directories of some of these services are available at sites called Lap of Love or In Home Pet Euthanasia Directory. There are also many such services who promote themselves on Facebook.

      As for the greater issue of what can be done to stop pet euthanasia atrocities from continuing to occur, there is a new organization that delivers on-site and online trainings to vets and vet techs on how to carry out peaceful, pain-free and respectful pet euthanasias. Search the Internet for the site CAETA International. (Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy.) Especially see their article The 14 Essential Components of Companion Animal Euthanasia. Go over all points in a pre-euthanasia conference with your vet, make it clear that you expect all 14 points to be fulfilled (especially a pain-free sedative or anesthesia), and have your vet explain to you exactly how that will be ensured.

      Best wishes for a peaceful, gentle, loving and pain-fee passing for your pet chihuahua when the time comes. ❤️


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