A vets gift of euthanasia and great sadness…

Drugs for stopping the heart

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As vets we are given a great gift to be used with great responsibility. We are given the right to euthanise animals in order to alleviate pain and suffering. Translated to English the word euthanasia means good death, and when used by a vet it generally is. It is painless, and for the animal just like going to sleep. For some animals that are sick and suffering it cannot be done fast enough – and though the vet may wish there was more that they could do to make the animal better it can be justified.

Now what I have noticed is that the techniques and methods for euthanasia are not covered in most of my textbooks. Instead my textbooks even with chapters on euthanasia tend to focus this towards dealing with the owner and how to prepare them for this instead of how to make this good death happen. Generally though for euthanasia an animal is sedated or given an anaesthetic drug to make them sleep, and then a different drug is injected into the animal to stop the heartbeat.

So there were two dog euthanasia’s today but they couldn’t be more different in how they made me feel.

I arrived this morning to a road traffic accident with a large dog, once we got this patient stabilised and completed the initial exam we rushed them into xray to get a better assessment. Waiting for the images to come up on screen I was slightly excited about the surgery to repair the damage, however when the images came up a deathly silence feel among us. It was not good. It was very very bad. Now you see with a large dog there is a lot of weight that needs to be supported, this is a lot of force on the legs, and so even one leg compromised can be disastrous. However this dog had 3 legs that had been damaged. We anaesthetised at this point so that a full physical exam of the injuries could be performed, after assessment and after discussion with the owner elected that it was kinder not to allow this dog to wake up. This dog was in great pain and suffering, and so the ability to deliver the gift of a painless death was a privilege.

Throughout the day there was an 8 week old puppy in for assessment of a congenital deformity to one of the front legs. Being a puppy this was a very cute dog, bouncing around wagging its tail and being very happy whilst receiving a lot of attention from everyone passing. Now after xrays and exam at the end of the day a discussion with the owner took place. The owner left without the puppy, and it was here that I realised something was up. The puppy was to be euthanized. Not because it was in pain or suffering. But because of a choice. There were surgical options available. The puppy could be fixed. However for whatever reason the owner elected not to. So it was us with this great responsibility that cuddled the puppy as it fell asleep. It was me that listened to the chest to make sure the heart had stopped. This puppy that had tried to soak me with water from its water bowl just hours before was gone. The tail wasn’t wagging.

Now you can probably guess the one that kept me awake that night… Not that I didn’t wish that there were surgical options for the big dog and was frustrated with our lack of ability to do anything… The one that kept me awake was the puppy that was happy and had good surgical options for a good life. Sure we shouldn’t get attached to patients, but there is just something about animals that makes you love them.

Sometimes euthanasia is necessary, however I believe it is a gift to be used to relieve pain or suffering. I realise that the world is largely based around consumerism now, and I hate the thought that by setting out on my quest to help animals that I may become a way to “return” a dog or other animal… As vets we are there to save as many as we can, I hate that sometimes money gets in the way, but until we have a better system I will advocate for every single pet out there being insured to remove this money factor from what is often the hardest decision pet owners have to make. Euthanasia is and should be about the animal.

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