[This is rather off-topic but it’s cathartic and might be helpful to someone.]
We recently euthanized a much beloved family cat. The process was both straightforward and bewildering. Herewith, notes on our experience along with suggestions about how we might approach it differently in the future.
This is about the mechanics of euthanizing a particular animal. It should be applicable to larger animals in different environments. Emotional and spiritual aspects are not addressed; those are difficult enough but not understanding the mechanics of the process only compounds the difficulty.
He was a gregarious and happy cat, though he was a little “well fed”. In the last month or two, he’d looked rather slimmer, had taken to “hiding” in unused rooms and then to snuggling aggressively, was not eating or drinking as he normally would. Tests were done, nothing was found and the downward spiral continued over the next few weeks.
We took him to another vet. They looked at his teeth, listened to his heart, squeezed his belly… and said we’re going to take him in the back room for a moment. They came back with ultrasound pictures (no charge) of a significant tumor.
At this point, the discussion turned to heroic (tumor resection + chemo) and/or palliative measures (he might be comfortable for a few more weeks with prednisone), no doubt to assure the pet owners that euthanasia was not the only option. This discussion was quickly cut off: we appreciate the situation, we know his condition, we know where this ends, further pain is not warranted.
- 10:00:00 – Arrive in exam room.
- 10:10:00 – Physical exam complete. Per earlier note, the cat is carried to the backroom.
- 10:15:00 – Vet returns with ultrasound pictures of tumor.
- 10:16:00 – Discussion.
- 10:18:00 – End of discussion. Let’s sort this. Explanation of process.
- 10:20:00 – The cat is carried to the backroom to be sedated and catheterized. Wife and I sit around glumly.
- 10:30:00 – The cat and staff return. A warm hospital blanket is fluffed on a cold, stainless steel exam table. The cat is placed upon the fluffed blanket. He looks fine, though his right arm is taped and has a catheter port. The vet and assistant say that they’ll leave now and we can knock on the door whenever we’re ready.
- 10:31:00 – What are we waiting for? We knock.
- 10:32:00 – Everyone is positioned (vet at the fore; assistant to one side; us to the other). The vet explains the three syringes: the first is just saline to verify the catheter is flowing properly; the second is propofol to put him to sleep (this is the “count backwards from ten” juice everyone knows from surgery); the third is an unspecified chemical to stop the heart.
- 10:32:30 – The vet assistant is holding the cat firmly though caringly; he’s petting the cat; we’re petting the cat; the vet attaches the first syringe and pushes it. Seems fine.
- 10:32:35 – The vet attaches the second syringe (propofol) and pushes it. Seems fine.
- 10:32:38 – The vet assistant cradles the cat as he begins to slump onto the blanket. We continue petting him.
- 10:32:45 – The cat is fully lying down. The vet attaches and pushes the third syringe. We continue petting the cat.
- 10:32:50 – “Excuse me, sorry”. The vet needs me to move aside so that he can apply the stethoscope to the cat’s chest.
- 10:32:52 – “It’s over. He’s gone.” We shake hands, say thank yous, they gracefully excuse themselves with a “Take as long as you need.” More petting. His eyes are still open but he looks peaceful. It’s actually fairly cathartic to look at your dead pet: in the last few minutes he’s ventured just about as far as he had from his healthy self a few months in the past… A favor has been done.
- 10:34:00 – To the wife: “Let’s get out of here!”
- 10:34:15 – Stop. Muzak, waiting at front desk for receipt to print, card swipe, signature, etc.
- 10:36:00 – Drive away.
Looks at those times. It’s quick. [Longer for larger animals as their circulatory systems are larger?]
He was euthanized at a local animal hospital (Montclair Animal Hospital) by a wonderful vet (Dr. Scriffignano) and assistant (Tim), neither of whom had met the cat before. Two thumbs up, five stars, etc. There are in-home euthanasia options, softly-lighted-couch options, etc. But it turns out: he’s a cat. He’s not being chased by coyotes; he’s got a bunch of caring people around him; lots of petting; fresh food; certain unpleasant things are going to happen that he can’t comprehend; and then it’s naptime. We would have taken the chipmunk chasing option, but it wasn’t offered.
In the end, these are cats/animals and there are pots of money to be made making the human happier during the process. We looked closely into these and they may be completely worth it to others. Our cat was in pain, the staff was kind and caring, so, yes, he was euthanized on a warm blanket on top of a cold, stainless steel examination table in an unfamiliar environment. It was quick and he’s no longer in pain. Quick, comfortable, happy-human: pick two.
The Order of Operations
In talking with other people about euthanizing their pets, the order of operations and its timing is quite variable (even when using the same vet). This is the bit over which you can possibly exert control. The end will still be the end but how you get there is the question.
After our cat was down, and we had driven away and processed the experience, we were left with three issues:
- Why was the cat taken away to be catheterized? I’m sure it can be unpleasant, especially if your animal is vocal or nippy. That might not be something you want to experience and so it makes sense and is a safer experience if they take the animal away. Our cat was not that way: I’m fairly sure he was purring when they catheterized him. We would have preferred to spend those 10 minutes with him.
- The procedure was quick: My wife and I would have loved to spend 30 seconds gazing at and petting a peacefully sleeping cat before the third syringe. Perhaps there are strong reasons to push the third syringe quickly? If not, next time we’ll ask for more time to watch them relaxing.
- Paying afterwards sucks: Immediately after euthanasia, we were in the mood to run and I was thinking that I’d suggest that we call in the payment… Next thing I knew we were standing at the front desk waiting to sign a card slip. Cue muzak…
Once the decision is made, we’ll do the following:
- Explain our animal’s temperament (e.g. if it’s a meowy, hissy cat, then maybe it’s best they go to back room the back room while the pros deal with an angry cat; if he’s mellow and trusting, then sedate and catheterize him here with us).
- Explain our temperament (e.g. are we going to faint at catheter placement?).
- Ask for the precise order of operations. When will the animal be away from us? Which absences and timings are required? Which can we change? Adjust as necessary/possible.
- Go through the procedure.
- Pay respects and exit quickly.