How It Works

How Most Vets Do It:
Rats are usually put to sleep using an overdose of a general anaesthetic. Generally your vet will use an injection into the abdomen and into one of the vital organs (normally the heart). The blood supply to these is very large and generally it is only a very short while before death occurs. It is important that euthanasia is as gentle and least stressful as possible. This method appears to be one of the most gentle and humane and helps ensure that everyone's last memories are as good as possible.
As the drug starts to have effect the rate of breathing will slow (some pets may show an initial increase in rate first), eventually the breathing will cease. By this time they will usually have become very floppy and their whole weight will need supporting.

As the dose of the anaesthetic increases it will start to have a direct effect on the heart (as well as an indirect effect via the brain). The heart rate will slow and will then also cease. Your vet will then check for certain reflexes and will also check that the heart has ceased, before pronouncing death.

Sometimes after death some deep reflexes can still occur. These reflexes seem to be more common in more elderly and sick patients, but are not directly a feature of the anaesthetic used. Occasionally pets may take a few deep gasps of breath and may pass urine and empty their bladders. These reflexes are rarely seen, but it is important to know that they are the products of the "lower brain"; the "thinking brain" (the real essence of our pet) has to have died, to allow these lower reflexes to become visible.

Many people say that the injection into the heart is very stressful for the rat. If you are at all worried about this, discuss the option of first getting a general anaesthetic for the rat with you Vet.

Webmasters note:
I am not one who is very fond of the "lethal" injection. Not to scare people from doing the right thing, but I have heard of many things that can go wrong, like heart attacks and worse. However, there is a kinder solution. Ask your Vet to first anaesthetise your rat, as though for surgery. This means the rat is asleep when the injection is given, and so shouldn't feel a thing. I did this with one of my first rats, Dommie, and it was the most peaceful way I found to do it.


Burying at home is a possible option - however there are various pieces of legislation affecting this and there may also be local by-laws and covenants (or tenancy agreements) on the use of your land. Given the small size of a rat it is unlikely that any of the legal aspects would pose a problem. However, if in doubt seek advice.
A further complication is that transporting your pet home from the surgery after euthanasia is technically illegal without the correct license/s.


The vast majority of pets which are euthanised are cremated. Most of the crematoria offer a range of special cremations where the ashes can be returned, either for scattering or in a special casket. A certificate of cremation may also often available. Ask your Veterinary Group about the options available and the costs involved.