Euthanasia - When it's the Vet's Pet
Mercy, my cat who lived at the clinic, went into kidney failure at the age of 20 in December. I considered very deeply the benefit versus stress of treatment. Treatment would not have guaranteed a significant improvement in the quality of her life. The IV fluids, new food, and additional medications, in addition to the various medications she was on already on, would have been a stress to her. Knowing Mercy the stress would have been more than the benefit it might bring for a short while, as kidney failure is progressive.
Her sudden decent happened the day before I was leaving town for a veterinary conference. I thought not only about what treatment would be like for her - stressful - but also how my staff might be in the difficult position to make a decision about her life while I was gone. There is never a guarantee with any treatment. She may have improved, or she may have continued to get worse. Even with a release signed to my staff, I could not see putting them in that difficult position.
I discussed all of this with my staff. Mercy lived at the practice because my husband has severe asthma to cats, and living with one is not possible. So the cats at the clinic get our company during the day, and quite time at night. Sort of the flip side of most home pets. They are our pets - we love them dearly and when there is illness, I will examine and treat yet I rely on other veterinarians to help me see objectively what is best. When it is your pet, even as a veterinarian, you cannot compartmentalize your emotions that much to be totally objective. While I knew the best decision was to end Mercy's life, I was not going to be the one to do that.
The staff all acknowledged that they felt it would be best and saw how she just slept and did not want to be held or petted that day. She needed alone time as she declined over the afternoon. I gave her a sedative so she would sleep as I and one of the employees took her the local after hours veterinary clinic. The kind veterinarian and assistant gave her the final injection which peacefully ended her life. We held her as this was done and I just said "I cannot be the one to give her this. I appreciate you doing this for me and her." The veterinarian fully understood. I was not a veterinarian then - I was a loving owner who wanted a peaceful end. That was delivered for her and I am very grateful.
I have had some clients and others surprised that I did not "put her down." While these are very understanding and compassionate people, they assumed it would be the same for me to euthanize my own animal as a client's. No, it is not I assured them. After 32 years of practice, I have seen generations of families and pets. Euthanasia hits me harder now than 20 years ago. Yes, I am sad when I have to euthanize a client's pet yet it is not as difficult emotionally as when it is my own. Veterinarians may seem to be able to handle anything, but that is not true. We all have our point of heartache and I think it is good to acknowledge that. Personally, when I know of veterinarians who do not have a pet, I think the difficulty of euthanasia is part of the reason. Please be compassionate with your veterinarian. Understand that this is not an easy part of the practice life, and may be one that cannot be served at times. For all of you who have also had to make this difficult decision I wish you peace and happy memories of your beloved companion.
- written by Dr. Sally Foote