Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Somber Topic: Euthanasia

I don't usually do serious posts, but in light of a few acquaintances who have lost horses in the past few weeks and one particular patient who passed last night during my shift, I thought I would touch on a difficult subject: euthanasia. (FWIW- Candy, Wilbur, and Lila are happy and healthy).

I work as a student worker in the ICU at my school's veterinary hospital, have worked as a technician in an equine hospital, and currently work in research. Between my jobs, and personal pets, I have, unfortunately, seen my fair share of death. An important aspect of my future career will be ushering animals on to a painless, humane death; it's a heavy burden, but falls under my duties as a veterinarian. I just wanted to write this article to bring awareness and gently touch on a topic I have experience with.

When to Euthanize
This is an incredibly personal decision. You as the owner know your animal best, and trust me, you will know when it is time. As a future veterinarian, I do not judge an owner euthanizing an animal with a chronic illness early in the course of the disease, nor do I judge you keeping the animal comfortable for an extended time. I do wish owners would understand that keeping an animal alive for the sake of keeping an animal alive is uncomfortable for me as a technician and assistant. Animals have little concept of the future, and understand, "I am hurting and suffering now.", but are not capable of understanding, "I am hurting and suffering now, but I spend more time with my owners in doing so." And when I say I am uncomfortable, I do not judge; I have been guilty of keeping a pet alive longer than he should have with the hopes that "he would turn around". I am uncomfortable because it breaks my heart to see an animal suffering and to see the owner suffering. As cliche and corny as it is, your animal will tell you when they are ready, when they are done being ill and in pain; as an owner, you just have to be ready to listen.

Should I Stay for the Euthanasia?
Again, incredibly personal. My personal preference is to stay with the animal until they pass, whether it is a lab animal or personal pet. However, when an owner gives the dog a hug, a treat, and a kiss goodbye and hands us the leash and leaves, I do not judge. Regardless of whether you stay, your animal will not pass alone and will not pass afraid. Sedation is given and the animal literally falls asleep. Then the barbituate is given as an overdose to stop the heart. Death can be ugly, and come in spasms, agonal breathing, and loss of bodily control, but the animal's spirit is already gone before the body goes. There is no suffering in euthanasia; we are trained to do it quickly and painlessly with minimal stress. Your veterinarian may have a personal preference on whether they prefer clients to stay. Certain methods of euthanasia may be more difficult to watch than others; I, myself, was prepared to not be present for my guinea pig, Doodle's, euthanasia because of the method required.

What Happens After Euthanasia?
There are a variety of options: personal disposal, cremation, disposal without cremation, or cosmetic necropsy. This all comes down to personal preference. I recommend necropsies in instances where cause of death was unclear, but understand that not everyone wants to understand the reason behind a death as I do. Cremation tends to be a popular option, and an option I have selected for my smaller pets. For horses, saving a piece of mane or tail, and potentially making it into jewelry or a ceramic piece are popular options.

**Obviously all of this should be discussed with your personal vet, and these are just my opinions as a 3rd year veterinary student.

RIP to Iggy J, Tap, and the sweet girls who were euthanized during my shift last night. Gone, but not forgotten.

-K & C

1 comment :

  1. definitely a tough (and personal) topic and great that you're so adamant about keeping an open mind about how people arrive at decisions for the care of their animals. sorry your friends' losses!