Euthanasia’s toll on vets Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Friday, 19 March 2021 04:55
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Recently it feels as if we are performing a lot of euthanasia, so I did a count on the number done in the last six months. The number shocked me.

The euthanasia of a pet is a source of stress for the veterinarian and the owner. Do not think that we become immune to it.

A pet is considered as property. As such, if it does not involve animal cruelty, an owner can request the euthanasia of any of his pets for any or no reason. The administration of an IV medication, which causes the heart to stop beating, is humane and not cruelty, but it takes a toll on your veterinarian.

We know death is part of any medical profession. Often vets are grateful that we are not human doctors and are able to euthanize pets who are suffering from severe or incurable disease. However, many times we are asked to euthanize pets because they are getting on in years or the owners are migrating or they may have some behavioural issues (which generally could have been prevented if the pet had been properly managed from a youngster) or the owners cannot afford treatment for an imminently treatable disorder, such as a fracture or a bite wound.

Remember that we are vets because we have a special feeling for animals. Your small animal vet sees your pet as more than just your property. As much as you, the owner, may be stressed with your decision – we are too.

We try our best to be calm and professional to smooth the procedure and minimize your pain and suffering. But, after a long week and maybe one too many euthanasia, we can also feel very despondent. It just goes against all we are trained for.

I find clients present in different ways when asking for euthanasia. You get those who are obviously upset and have travelled a long road with their pets. You get those who are making a rational decision based on their personal situation. For some this is also an emotional one and they show it, for others a gruff exterior hides the emotion, and then there are some who really do not care one way or another.

Even for those showing no care, they have at least made the effort to euthanize and not just abandon their pet. Ironically, I personally can handle the emotional client better than the uncaring one because I feel that the pet at least had some meaning in its life. Still, this is an emotive response.

I tell my students that, ultimately, we are here to prevent pain and suffering in pets. This can translate into treating them, euthanizing them if the disease is too extreme and also euthanizing them if they do not have access to a loving and caring home.

Especially with the current financial crunch people are experiencing, money is not always available for luxuries such as expensive treatment of pets. Additionally, there is a wave of emigration, where pets cannot accompany their owners. This is a reality we have to deal with.

But, please realise the effect that this is having on your veterinarian. We are more and more unable to treat patients for financial reasons, not just a poor prognosis: This means more euthanasia. We have to euthanize healthy pets because owners are emigrating and we understand why this is necessary. It is impossible to rehome all these pets, but it does take its toll on us.

So, even during your own trauma, take a moment to think about your vet when you request euthanasia. We are not machines.

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