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Vet Student:  Let’s talk about Euthanasia

Posted by Cari Wise on Feb 18, 2016 8:00:00 AM



There probably isn’t a topic more controversial in veterinary medicine than euthanasia.  A veterinary license provides us with the legal authority to humanely end the lives of our animal patients.   And although this is allowed, and most often medically necessary, it does not come without cost.

I’m not talking about the financial cost.  I’m talking about the emotional toll that euthanasia takes on the vets, vet techs, assistants, receptionists, and clients alike.  We love animals.  We have dedicated our lives and our careers to caring for them.  And as the circle of life comes to a close for our patients, we are often called to help them along to the other side.

It is the right thing to do.  But it is not easy for for client to decide, or doctor to perform.

As a student I dreaded my first euthanasia.  Over a decade later, I still dread ending life, but I’ve learned how to cope (mostly).

We all handle this aspect of our job differently, and it is up to each of us to decide where euthanasia services fit into our professional careers.  Some veterinarians refuse to provide the service at all.  Other DVMs agree in any circumstance whenever an owner requests it.  Still others, like me, fall somewhere in the middle.

There is no right or wrong answer.  But as a vet, you have the right to choose the approach that is right for you.  You can say no.  You can decline to perform euthanasia.  Nowhere is it written that you have to agree to end life.  As for me, I decide on a case-by-case basis.

Things to Consider when Contemplating Euthanasia:

  • Is the animal suffering?
  • Is the animal near the end of its life span?
  • Is the animal terminally ill?
  • Is the animal severely injured?
  • Has the animal been diagnosed with a medical condition that is at best manageable, but not curable, and the owners do not wish to treat?
  • Is the animal aggressive, or dangerous (to people or other animals)?
  • Does the animal have a compromised quality of life?
  • Am I familiar with the owner, the animal, and its health status?
  • Is rehoming a realistic option?
  • Is this request for owner convenience rather than animal necessity? 

Personally, I struggle with convenience euthanasia, and just refuse to do them anymore.  Early in my career, I thought I had to do it.  As an associate veterinarian, I thought that was my duty.  It wasn’t.  You can say no.

As an associate, and later as a practice owner, I advised my receptionists to not schedule me for euthanasia appointments with non-clients for apparently healthy animals.  And I stopped permitting drop off euthanasias all together.  At the very least, an owner must have a conversation with me before I agree to end their pet’s life.

That being said, I also do not try to talk clients out of euthanasia if it is requested for any reason other than convenience.  I may suggest rehoming, if it seems reasonable, but I do this only occasionally and always cautiously.  It is not my place to make a client feel guilty about a decision they have agonized in making for a pet they dearly cherish, so I reserve this approach for those clients who are seem undecided and open to other options.

Never underestimate the value of client education.  I have seen many convenience euthanasia appointment requests turn to consultations and end in happy adoptions (by people other than me and my employees!). Many times pet owners just don’t know what to do, and they do not realize other options exist.

As a veterinarian you cannot be all things for all people.  But you do have to live with the choices you make, so choose wisely and don’t be afraid to establish a professional approach that aligns with your personal beliefs.

Vet students and veterinary professionals, have something to share?  Submit your comments and let's start a conversation!

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Topics: Client Situations, Communication, Vet Student, Euthanasia, Career, Clients

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