Humane Euthanasia

Including After-Hours House Calls

Different veterinary clinics may have somewhat different protocols for humane euthanasia and aftercare, but the principles remain the same. In general, none of the choices we offer are firm; they can usually be easily modified. That is a hallmark of this type of service. Above all, we try to provide personalized consideration of yours and your pets’ circumstances. A simple rule of thumb applies here – there really are no rules… We can adjust as circumstances dictate. Not a big deal.

Our staff and Dr. Snyder have all been through these procedures on multiple occasions, including with our own pets, and we understand where you’re coming from. We try to take nothing for granted. All of our staff are equally voiced on protocols. Clearly, there are times when they may seek Dr. Snyder’s input for medical reasons, but if there are questions, we can all field them with consistent, and hopefully, thoughtful answers.

We treat the service as one that is not truly an emergency, but may in fact be very close to it. We understand that behind the scenes, there may have been weeks and months of agonizing over whether one should proceed with euthanasia. Sometimes, the implementation of the process may be more straightforward than the thought processes beforehand. We understand that you are overwhelmed by trying to consider so many variables- your schedule, our schedule, a frail animal that is scared and vulnerable. The details can always be worked out. It begins with your phone call, and we can help implement from there.

The struggle of when to carry out the procedure is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that we respect the decision is very private and unique, in that people have different vantage points and concerns. We do not sit in judgement of any decisions made, nor how they are arrived at. If we are asked, we can offer advice, including an exam with the pet, if desired.

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Your Trusted Veterinarian in Langley

In case you are concerned about your pet’s end of life, please contact us. Let our dedicated team at Small Creatures Pet Clinic provide the exceptional care your furry family members deserve!

Table of Contents


We can provide euthanasia service with either a housecall, or at ‘Small Creatures’. The former service is more costly (see below). In our experience, the most common reason for a housecall is because of concern for the animals’ wellbeing. In recent years, most animal behaviour experts have come to view animals as being ‘sentient’ – that is, capable of experiencing fear, pain and distress. Many owners feel that the home environment is less stressful than the clinic. Sometimes transport (especially for larger, infirm dogs) becomes difficult. We have had many clients at ‘Small Creatures’ express their difficulty in returning to a clinic where they have previously put their pet to sleep, given the stress endured. Perfectly understandable.

Some years ago, we provided a housecall for one of our great canine friends, ‘Wally’, and his family of Ian, Jude and Amy. ‘Wally’ wasn’t getting around well. It was Christmas time. He was put to sleep at the foot of the Christmas tree in the living room. Pretty hard to think how, under difficult circumstances, he could have been more comfortable. Housecalls can provide a comfortable environment for the pets’ final hours.

We prefer to offer the housecall service ‘after hours’, which usually means after supper or the late afternoon. The procedure is not one we want to provide when we are ‘clock-watching’ at the clinic. It requires time, and adaptation to circumstances as they might arise. Not a time for rushing.

For housecalls, the time from arrival at the client’s home, carrying out the procedure, and Dr. Snyder arriving back at the clinic, usually takes 1 1/4 hours (the procedure at the clinic, from client arrival to completion, usually takes about one hour).

At the clinic, we try to book off more than adequate time, so there is no sense of urgency, and privacy is respected at all times.

Owner Presence

With housecall procedures, the owner is most often present, though that does not have to be the case. Sometimes, one family member wishes to be present, while others may not. We can be flexible.

In the clinic setting, there are also many different choices as well. Some owners choose not to be present at all. Some ask for ‘quiet time’ in an isolated part of the clinic, leaving when it feels right, without participation in the process itself. Some stay for the sedative (see below) until it has taken effect (usually about 10-20 minutes), and then excuse themselves.

Not uncommonly, an owner will state their wish to NOT be present, or that they are not sure, or that they think they would prefer to leave. Oftentimes, once we have discussed the protocol, these owners will remain. In these cases, I may ask sometime afterward if they have any regret for having remained; none to date have expressed such, but rather, seem to appreciate that they had been present. If it helps, try to think about what your long term impressions, post euthanasia, might be when making these decisions. Sometimes people are held up in their choices only by a lack of information. So please ask us.

Discussion Time

Before administration of a sedative (see below), regardless of housecall or clinic venue, a thoughtful discussion proceeds the procedure itself. We appreciate that owners may have been through the euthanasia procedure before, but every circumstance is different, and it’s not a good time for surprises, given that such intense emotions are involved. Again, experience tells us that the short chat is usually time well spent.


When we perform the euthanasia procedure, we ultimately need to give an intravenous (IV) injection into the vein. Usually we use the front leg. As with routine blood test sampling from a vein, the process may be uncomfortable for both people and pets. To help with this, we administer a sedative injection beforehand. This is usually given under the skin, with minimal response from the pet. Sometimes this injection may itself be a bit ouchy, but this is of less consequence and distress for the pet (and the owner) than the actual lethal injection into the vein. The sedative is an effort to ensure the actual IV (lethal) injection unfolds with minimal stress and discomfort, for both the pet and owner. Veterinarians sometimes privately recount procedures in which startled animals over-respond to the IV part of the euthanasia procedure. Such unpleasant memories can have long lasting effect for the owner. We appreciate the extra time required for the owner (usually about 10-20 minutes) for the sedative, but it is usually high quality time that is well appreciated. We ask for your patience.

Response to sedation, be it in the veterinary or human realm, can be variable. If the animal is very deeply sedated, we may proceed more quickly than the 20 minute time frame. If the animal is ‘light’, we may ‘top it up’ again, with another sedative injection, which will act much quicker than the first. It’s not always an exact science, and we ask for your patience. All recommendations are made with animal and owner welfare/peace of mind in the forefront of our thoughts. Some clinics do not sedate, but rather take the animal ‘to the back’ for placement of an IV catheter, at which point the animal returns to the exam room for the final injection. We believe the removal of the animal from the owner is stressful, and the placement of the catheter is usually quite painful, so we have never used this method. Clearly, it hastens the process, but we believe the animals’ comfort is paramount.

When the sedative is given on a housecall, Dr. Snyder typically leaves the premises for about 20 minutes post injection, allowing the sedative to take effect. This allows more quality, private time between owner and dearest friend. Within the clinic environment, the client remains in the exam room, with the pet, for the same privacy and quality quiet time.

At some point post sedation, we receive written owner authorization for the procedure. Sometimes people wish to settle on their bill during this quiet wait time (see notes below on ‘Cost’).

Administration of the sedative is one of the few times during the euthanasia procedure where, as the attending veterinarian, Dr.Snyder might over-rule a request from the owner to not use it. With thoughtful consideration and discussion, things get worked out. We are guided by trying to provide a ‘fear-free’ procedure for your great friend during its final moments.

Administration of the IV (Lethal) Injection

Once we agree that the animal is appropriately sedated (usually evidenced by non-response to a light toe pinch), we move forward with the actual lethal injection. It is an overdose of the same medication used for procedures (usually surgical) on both pets and humans. With surgery, vital organs (especially the brain and heart), are slowed down to a degree that the procedure can be carried out, hopefully without accompanying pain. The patient is then recovered.

With the euthanasia procedure, the brain and heart are slowed down, and in fact stop, which is to say the animal ‘goes to sleep’. We don’t believe there is pain or discomfort involved.

Before administration of the injection, with or without staff aid (not possible on a housecall), the site over the vein is clipped. We will save the bit of removed fur and place it in a keepsake coin envelope for you. Most people take it with them. A tourniquet (or an assistant’s hand) is used to ‘raise’ the vein. A small amount of alcohol is applied- it might be a bit cool….With your permission, we will tell you we are about to begin the injection, and will proceed. Once the injection is started, the pet is usually ‘asleep’ within about a minute. When the injection is complete, a piece of tape is placed over the injection site, and stoppage of the heart is confirmed with both the stethoscope, and feeling for the absence of a pulse in the hind leg. If an owner is present, cessation of breathing and movement probably makes it clearly evident to them that their pet is gone, before it is confirmed with the stethoscope; Dr. Snyder will most probably be confirming that which they already know.

At the end, the pet may defecate or urinate, or possibly gasp or twitch. Though this may be surprising, it is not cause for alarm. In fact, it probably indicates complete relaxation on the part of the pet. And we will clean up any messes, if required. It is important that the owner is focused solely on the animal and themselves. We will look after things

When the procedure is complete, if there are no further concerns, Dr. Snyder will depart to allow the owner uninterrupted quiet time. We really encourage this, out of his presence, for closure. It helps. Again, there is no rush. In the housecall situation, Dr. Snyder will wait in his vehicle for further direction when the owner comes to the front door.

You have our word that once you have departed the clinic, or Dr. Snyder arrives back at ‘Small Creatures’ from the housecall, your wishes will be carried out respectfully, quickly and with deep respect for your lost companion. Sometimes, surprisingly, we are asked if the deceased animal is to be used for experimental purposes, or if we perform a post mortem on them. The thought of such is surprising, and the question is somewhat discomforting for Dr. Snyder as a professional. The pets’ body is sacred, and we are entrusted with ensuring such. It’s called professionalism. No exceptions. No more discussion.

Patience, Please

On a housecall, we ask for patience…. Sometimes the circumstances are ‘tricky’. Dr. Snyder is on his own, sometimes working in dim light, with an infirm animal that might be in an awkward position to administer the euthanasia injection. Fortunately, a previous career in large animal field medicine seems to serve him well; he can scrunch up into just about any position, upside down or sideways, as seems to often happen. We work it out. If he misses the vein first time, he tries again. Sometimes medicine, and perhaps moreso veterinary medicine, isn’t an exact science. Usually the sedative will ensure the pet remains peacefully quiet.


We can offer ‘aftercare’ choices to you at any point, including well before, during or after the procedure. Sometimes there is more clarity when we aren’t so upset-ie, beforehand.

If you as the owner wish to provide aftercare, burial would be the usual choice. For your information (only), burial in Langley Township is in contravention of zoning bylaws; but of course, not really our business.

Cremation can be provided through the clinic. We offer a choice of either communal services (with other pets- no return of ashes), or a private cremation, in which case ashes are returned in a small urn. The turnaround time for ash return is about 2-3 business days. With either choice, special keepsakes (toys, collars, bedding) can be sent with the pet. We use an organization in Mission, Forever in Peace, or FIP, whose services we have been using since the clinic’s inception 30 years ago. We are very comfortable with their ethics and service. As staff, we have used their aftercare services for our own pets.


Another choice offered is the creation of a pawprint, baked in clay. We use an organization in Vancouver, SPAWTS, and again are very comfortable recommending them. We have brochures outlining their services- choices are available for, but not limited to, colour, presentation, framing, etc.. It is very tasteful. Shortly after the pet passes, we take the imprint here, and it is subsequently picked up by SPAWTS. This service typically requires 2-3 weeks turnaround time.

For both the private cremation ash return and the pawprint return, we call when your pet arrives back at the clinic. There is no expectation of a particular time frame for pick up. Just when it feels most comfortable.


Exact pricing varies, and is beyond the scope of this article. As regards discussing it, suffice it to say there are no rules here, either- perhaps it’s easier to discuss and/or settle well before the procedure. Perhaps at the time of. Perhaps sometime later (or at the time of ash/pawprint pickup). We are happy to discuss fees at any time. No question is inappropriate; cost is a concern here as in any other walk of life. Take your time.

On a housecall, Dr.Snyder’s attention is strictly upon the pet and the owner; billing is usually reserved until well after the visit. If we haven’t dealt with you before as a client, we might want to discuss arrangements before the procedure takes place.

Virtually every aspect of this process is very personal, and people have many reasons for their choices. We do not judge any of those choices. We have been through the process ourselves, with our own pets, and appreciate how difficult a time it is. We’re here to help and facilitate.

On a personal note, some years ago, I was having difficulty with the euthanasia service, especially in light of my training as a veterinarian, striving to promote wellness and treat illness. It has been very cathartic for me to realize that through a 43 year career of both large and small animal veterinary medicine, some of my most memorable moments have come from participating in the incredible expression of the pet/human bond I so often see at the end point of an animal’s life. I am privileged, and thank all of you who have allowed me to share this process with you.

In facing choices, you will do the right thing, as long as you keep your dear friend’s welfare foremost in your thoughts. Trust yourself.

James H. Snyder, DVM, Dipl., ACT.

Addendum – Presence of children for a euthanasia procedure of the family pet is something we can talk to you about. It is probably beyond the scope of this article. Above all, just be very honest with them.