When a Difficult Event – Euthanasia – Is Made Far More Difficult

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Euthanizing any pet is emotionally difficult. You know what’s going on, and the pet doesn’t; there is a lot of guilt around that. Even when the animal has been suffering, and is likely to suffer far more if you chose not to arrange for this humane assistance, most of us feel at least a little bit of guilt about bringing our friend to the vet (or a housecall vet to our pet) for that final visit. You may be experiencing anticipatory grief and sadness. You may also be feeling doubt: Is this really the time? Did we do everything we could?

I’ve attended the euthanasia of a number of animals, my own, and those who belonged to friends or relatives who felt they couldn’t be present. I’ve been present for the euthanasia of dogs and cats, my family milk cow, and several horses. It was wrenching emotionally every time – and yet, every single time, the process went smoothly. Every veterinarian who has helped my animal friends pass from consciousness has induced this calmly, professionally, and with great sensitivity. Given the difficulties with the medical or behavioral problems and trauma that necessitated each euthanasia, I couldn’t be more grateful to the veterinary professionals who provided this valuable service.

But I guess I’ve been fortunate; I’ve never been present for a “bad” euthanasia. It stands to reason that the drugs can’t always affect all animals they are administered to exactly the same way. Every drug can cause a bad reaction, or be ineffective, in some individuals. And not all vets or vet techs are equally skilled at handling pets (especially pets who are in pain); not all are kind and empathetic.

In the August issue of WDJ, we’ve published accounts of two unpleasant euthanasia procedures – events that have left the owner involved feeling traumatized and guilty – and a discussion of how to do the most you can to ensure that your pet’s final vet visit is without fear, pain, or trauma. Of course, you can’t control the experience; you can only choose the veterinary hospital and veterinarian with whom you feel most comfortable, and then you have to sort of hope for the best: a calm, pain-free passage from this life to whatever comes next. The article offers a lot to think about, and a lot to ask your veterinarian, before scheduling an appointment for euthanasia.

Did you ever experience a traumatic event during the euthanasia of one of your pets? Was there anything you would have done differently?

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. ROCKO’S STORY:

    I feel like I need to share my families experience last night (04/29/19) at the Vet so that no one’s animal has to go through what happened to Rocko, my Chinese Shar-pei.

    My dog has been sick for many years with a disease called Shar-pei Fever and for the past couple days his pain and inflammation meds were not working anymore. We made the decision to have him euthanized. We got to the vet at 9:30pm. The tech took him to the back and put an IV catheter in his leg at 11:00pm. The vet gave him a pain injection around midnight and said once it took effect they would inject the medication to stop his heart. Well, the pain injection did not work. So instead of figuring out why the pain injection didn’t work the vet injected the pentobarbital. My dog flopped around like a fish, crying and bashing his head into the ground. The vet said it should have only taken 3 seconds to work. The vet stood there for about 5 minutes as my family watched in horror. He then says it’s probably because of his liver, let’s give it some more time. The vet said this has never happened before, I don’t know. I’m on the floor with my dog trying to comfort him, crying and begging him to just go to sleep. The Vet goes to the back, then returns to the exam room with another vial of pentobarbital and injects it into the IV catheter. Rocko got worse with the second injection. My husband tells the vet you have to do something to help him, this isn’t right, please that’s my dog. The Vet instructed his tech to take him into the back to redo his catheter. After 5 more minutes of hearing him cry out my husband went in the back to find out what they were doing to his dog. Then I heard yelling. The vet was being very rude to my husband and threatened to call the police on him. Roy (my husband) said please do because the sheriff would probably deal with the Vet. So now we (my husband, son, daughter-in-law, daughter and I) are in the back, Rocko was laying almost lifeless on a metal grate that was on top of a metal bin that looks like its meant to catch liquids, water, blood, and bodily fluids. For the next 20 minutes, we witnessed the tech trying to insert a new catheter 4 more times into different locations. During this the vet went to go check on the animals in the cages. There was a dog bed next to the cages on the floor with a little dog under a blanket poking his little head out. The vet got down to his level and started petting the dog. Really, you just left a critical situation to pet another dog?!? Why didn’t he try to insert the IV catheter himself? Isn’t he suppose to be the well educated and experienced person in the room? Obviously both techs couldn’t do it. You are the only person in this place with a Ph.D. in Veterinary Medicine. I trusted you to execute this last act of compassion for my dog! So after the last attempt by the tech, the vet came back to my dog, looked at the site while the tech was pressing down on the groin with the length of his hand about an inch and a half above the catheter. The vet then injected third vial of pentobarbital which didn’t work again! The vet then turned to me and said he has to inject the medicine into his heart. I said ok. Rocko died within 2 seconds.—– Why couldn’t he have done that after the first injection? Why? My daughter ran into the waiting room because she just couldn’t take it anymore. The Vet didn’t say a word, he just left. My daughter said she saw him slam the exam room door that enters into the lobby, grabbed his jacket and went home. She said he looked really mad. Why? The tech told us to go back into the exam room and he would clean Rocko up and bring him to us for our final goodbye. The tech then held my baby Rocko up by his hind legs, dangling as if he was a hunted deer. I will never be able to get rid of that image.

    Prior to this event, the vet was in an hour-long surgery from around 11:00pm until 12 something. Did my dog suffer because he was in a hurry to leave? My son told me he heard the vet yell that he is getting paid overtime to help our dog. What did he mean by that?

    I then spent about 15 minutes apologizing to my tortured dog because I made that tough decision to end his pain. Instead, he felt the worst pain of his life for 2 hours. At that moment I just wanted to take my Rocko home so we could bury him ourselves so we could show him some compassion that he should have felt in the end. I decided not to because I felt the vet would probably call the police and I do not know whether it’s against the law. I will never be able to forgive myself.

    So, many things went terribly wrong that could have been prevented if we had a competent vet. He knew that Rocko’s paws and legs were extremely inflamed, which was the reason why they couldn’t get a good vein. Maybe he should have treated his inflammation with Benedryl so that he could properly insert the IV catheter? The vet should have checked the original catheter by drawing a little bit of blood from it(Flashing). After the first failed injection he should have informed us that the only option would be to inject it into the heart which he could have done privately in the back and then allowed us to say goodbye.

    My husband, kids and I witnessed this torture to our gentle giant. We have as a family never cried so hard. I’m still in shock. I have edited this post a few times to include events that took place that I forgot to include and that were brought to my attention by my family that where there. Witnessing trauma is the worst experience. It makes you depressed and dwindles your faith in humanity.

    On the morning of (04/30/20) my husband, Roy talked to the office manager Tamra about what happened and they were apologetic and offered at no additional cost for us to receive a private cremation, his ashes, and a paw print, and that they would deal with the vet. Honestly, when everything was over I wanted to stop payment on the $270 dollars that we had to pay before the procedure, but I decided not to out of fear that his body would be just be thrown in a trash can. And to this day Pets R Us has not even offered me a refund. I honestly don’t care about the money, but it would have been the proper thing to do in this situation. On Wednesday (05/01/2019) my husband requested their offer of upgraded cremation service at no charge in writing. He was told it would be prepared and ready for pickup the next day. The next day (05/02/2019) I received a call from the office manager Tamara. She told me that Rocko was cremated on Tuesday and we should receive everything sometime next week. She also stated that she would not be able to provide us with it in writing. I asked can’t you write something and sign it. She replied in a curt voice “No”. I said “huh…ok” and ended the call. My son called back later in the day to ask for Corporate phone number and email. He was told that they are the same ones from their website. When he asked her name she refused to say. I’ve tried to send my complaint and request for a resolution to the email on the website, I received a failure notice. And the phone number from the website was out of order. After some digging, I found their correct email account. After everything my family has been through.

    My Rocko did not deserve any of this.

    Please if you use Pets r Us in Palmdale do not let Michal Ekladios touch your pets until he is properly trained to react and perform under similar circumstances. It is my opinion that he needs remedial training on the euthanization procedures for a sick animal. As hurt as I am, I know we are all humans that make mistakes, what matters is that we learn from them. I in no way do I think it was intentional. However, he was unprofessional and lacked knowledge of what to do in that situation.

    If you ever have to euthanize your pet PLEASE I strongly advise that you make the Vet check the IV catheter before he injects the medication. Make sure the pain injection works first or else the euthanasia medication will go into their flesh and not a vein (Extravasation) resulting in a (Perivascular Leakage). It will cause tissue destruction and pain at the site of injection and along the vein, loss of mobility and motor skills.

    I have posted this to a few group pages since that horrible day. I have received replies from hundreds of members telling me Rocko’s story has brought tears to their eyes as read and sending my family condolences and prayers. One person referred to me as “The Lady who caused half the Antelope Valley to cry”. I’ve had people from all over California telling me because of Rocko’s Story they fell better informed as what to do for their pets when the time comes to be PTS(I hate saying that phrase). I’ve also received numerous replies from unhappy clients of Pets R Us that share their traumatic experiences. Many members are advising me to file complaints with various businesses, organizations, and State of California’s Veterinarian Medical Review Board, Licensing Board, and Malpractice Board. As of right now, I have filed each complaint accordingly. And I also have received several replies from members advising me to sue. People from the animal and Veterinary industries have even messaged me to support me in whatever my family decides to do. Maybe a law could be written or a new protocol for vets that say they only get 2 attempts with the IV and then injection to the heart. To each and every one of you, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have given me the strength to provide Rocko with a voice to stand up for what is right. And thank goodness for spell check or else I could not have written this with all of my tears flowing.

    In closing, I do want to thank the vet techs as they had the same look of horror on their faces as us. They were very apologetic and had the same look of horror on their faces as us. I just want answers. 😔

    Thank you for taking the time to read Rocko’s story.

    • My god I do not know how you could have gone through that. I had to euthanize my own dog yesterday 7/23 and my family and I were a complete mess at the office. The process was a little traumatic because I was letting a family member go but also a happy one because I knew he was in pain. The process and the doctor’s empathy towards our dog also made his passing a little easier. I’m still grieving but I know that that experience was also helpful in his passing. I was also surprised with the fact that your story took place so close to home. I live in Lancaster and I am saddened to know that we have vets in our area like this. My doctor works at Sears Veterinary in Lancaster and I cant recommend that facility enough especially after yesterday. If you have other animals, I recommend you take them there. Their prices are affordable and most importantly the doctor (Dr. Chemma) cares about his animals. I hope you can find closure and I hope youre able to make that vet pay for what he did to your best friend.

    • So very sorry about all of that. I hope you are feeling better by now. It’s a little over a year later. I came here looking for something different. Although I could have saved my baby, at least
      she went very peacefully so I’m thankful for at least. Again I’m sorry. It seems like at least some good came out of it, but I know it can’t erase the trauma and pain your family had to suffer.

  2. Laura, I just read your post trying to find out what went wrong with our 17 year old cats Euthanasia a few days ago- I’ve had many, many cats over 30 years and never had an experience as bad as that (convulsions and struggling), but yours truly sounds nightmarish. I am so very, very sorry for you and your family. I hope you can and/or have reported the incident to the regional veterinary board.

    As you will probably never have an answer as to what happened, I hope you can at least take some comfort knowing that your beloved Rocko is no longer struggling with illness.

  3. Scooties story

    I too had a horrible experience whenever it was time to put my little Yorkie down he had been suffering with congestive heart failure for about a year and was coughing more and more. For an entire year I struggled wondering when it would be time to put him down. I took him to the vet often and he was put on medication to help his heart be stronger meds for the fluids that would build up. He had good days and bad days but as the year passed he became more tired and it became harder and harder for him to breathe or go without coughing. I did a lot of research and spoke to my vet who told me that at some point I should euthanize instead of just hoping that he would die in his sleep since that rarely happens.
    I found out about an organization of vets who specialize in hospice care who comes to your house to euthanizeclaiming that it’s the most peaceful way for your pet to pass.
    I finally made the phone call as I talked on the phone with this female vet who patiently listened and told me that she had been doing this for 7 years and assured me that this was the right choice. I told her that my biggest fear was him drowning in his own fluids and she said that she felt that euthanizing was the only way to guarantee that he would go peacefully so we made an appointment.
    The next couple of days I cried so much trying to tell my little scooty bye that i felt like surely at least we would both finally be at peace soon.
    The day that she came he was having a good day not much coughing. My boyfriend and my best friend and my aunt and I sat in the living room and the lady ask me to put him in my lap and pet him as she would inject himwith the first injection. She said it would take about 2 minutes and he would be completely sedated and then she would give him the second injection which would stop his heart. She pulled out a cotton ball and some alcohol and a razor and shaved his fur on his leg , wiped him with the cotton and gave him the first injection.
    Immediatly he jumped up and jumped off the couch on the floor and was trying to run. I reached down and picked him up and he was unable to breath and struggling. I said something is going wrong I said he is not falling asleep he is not able to breathe. You could hear him struggling. I asked her what was going on and she said well maybe he circulation is not good in the medicine is taking longer than it should and she pulls out her stethoscope! I said my dog is suffocating this is exactly when I did not want to happen. He was drowning in his fluids she said the sedative must have caused him to relax so much that all the fluids were draining. I said please give him another shot to put him to sleep please hurry so this doctor pulls out the alcohol and cotton again and is literally going to wipe the spot again before giving him another shot. After the second shot nodding his head back and forth and she said that is how they know that they are unaware of anything that the head nodding back and forth is a sign that they are unconscious of anything she said I’m sure he doesn’t know anything that is happening at this point I laid him down on his little bed and I lay beside him and stared right intoright into his little eyes and I told him to please go wherever God is and wait for me. I was sobbing so hard I felt like part of him let go to relieve and comfort me. He was gone by the time she gave him the injection to stop his heart. This was a year and a half ago and I am still processing it. I called the owner of the company and got a refund and a phone call saying that they were sorry and that this happens with older pets sometimes and that heart disease may have caused the medicine to not go into effect as quickly from poor circulation.
    My question is why didn’t this lady tell me all of that beforehand and try to prepare me at least I could have expected did this might happen and not have been panicking the entire time. Also they need to bring some other type of medication that would put them to sleep immediately or something I don’t know but I will always feel like Scootie felt tricked by a room full of people that knew him best , I will I always wonder what was going through his little mind those last few minutes, I felt like he knew that I knew what was happening and he didnt which is insane but the guilt from a bad euthanasia is terrible.

  4. My sincere condolences to for Rocko and you terrible experience. I am a vet tech and have seen alot!
    I have also been on both sides of euthanasia. Sometimes when a dogs body and organs are shutting down and the limbs have so much edema, it it almost impossible to find a vein, anywhere! While I do not condone direct heart sticks, it is sometimes the last option. I do think it should have been discussed with the family and agreed on a muscular sedation, then taken your beloved to the treatment area and given your best friend his final treatment, which he would never have felt because of sedation, and brought back to you, so you could properly mourn him. I hope you never have to go thru that agony again. My heart is with you. ❤️

  5. Similar thing happend to my 14 year old Sheiko. She had secondary lung cancer and I had to decide on euthanasia when she was unable to
    Lie down for sleep due to thr fluids in her lungs. I saw her struggle in the same way as described here and all those moments are still haunting me and making me cry. I took so much care of her during her disease that it s just impossible to accept that she suffered so much on her last moments. I literally almost fainted when I saw this. I just want to understand what exactly went wrong and what happened to her??? Could the vet know in advance this could happen? Is there something that can be done to avoid this totally?

  6. This happened to me today and I will forever be scarred by it. My 14 yr old Lab mix had nasal cancer that was radically growing and blocking her nostrils. I struggled with putting her down because she was still so full of life, but had started to go downhill fast. The old vet had retired so I took to her new vet. After waiting for 2hours , they said they would give her sleep shot, then put in IV TO put her down. 10 minutes after sleep shot, she began seizing and having convulsions. It was more than I could take, so I ran out in hysterics. Now I feel guilty for not taking her to another vet and for leaving her! My husband was at work and now he is furious for me not staying with her. I deserted her.

    • Death isn’t always clean, and just because she was having convulsions doesn’t mean she was in pain. If it is really hurting you, you might want to find out more about whether she was even aware anymore at the time that she was having the convulsions. It is understandable to react to your own horror and panic in that way. We all struggle with situations like this in different ways 🙁

  7. This was my experience with our wonderfully sweet 10 yr old Cavalier who had Lymphoma, but the chemo didn’t work and during chemo he developed facial paralysis and was beginning to have neurological and eye problems, but all the while he still continued to enjoy his food and treats and would rally every morning for a little while and when he tried laying down and all night, his lymph nodes had swollen to the point of him not being able to breath and had labored breathing.
    This is what happened with the euthanizing person.
    “In my personal opinion I would like to tell you of horrible experience with Dr. Susan Holt of Say Goodbye at Home in Quincy, MA which was quite different from reviews telling of a caring, engaged, compassionate and comforting person, as she was nothing like the person who came to our door.
    From the outset she never touched or greeted our dog or gave him an exam. There was no interacting, engaging or acknowledging our dog, and he looked quite tense and kept looking around.

    Waiting for some sort of guidance and direction, we were standing around, holding our dog, when she suddenly came up behind us and quickly injected our dog startling him and causing him to loudly yelp as it was painful. Never asked if we needed more time to say goodbye or if we would have liked to sit down for the injection. She was very uncommunicative, barely answering me at times. But now our opportunity was gone because our dog was drifting off to sleep.We had to quickly put him on the couch, where she instantly prepped him for the IV, causing him to awaken because he wasn’t given enough time for the sedation to work, so yet another injection was given, then the IV. We felt rushed through the whole process.

    His final exit was being wrapped in a disposable puppy pad and placing him into the overloaded trunk of her car with just enough room for him as he was pushed into a lightly colored trash bag and shoved to the back.

    This final farewell was devastating and heartbreaking and not what I envisioned. I expected so much more and got so much less. Our dog deserved better.

    Where was the Dr. Holt who takes the time to pet and talk to a dying dog, making him feel comfortable, encouraging owners to sit down and say their goodbyes before sending him to a peaceful sleep and brings them out in dignity. She did not live up to my expectations.

    NEVER EVER hire a vet who is about to go on vacation. It is too late for my dog but don’t let it be too late for your dog.

    Dr. Holt replied that in our grief, that what we saw didn’t happen and that she explained everything and how she is overworked, working 3 jobs. That you can’t please everyone and here we are (my partner and I) both agreed on what she did. But she went on to say she knows she did her best. May respond thru the Yelp app but it appears they took my experience off.

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