Tag: euthanasia (page 1 of 3)

The Harsh Reality of Vet Med

As I look back over the past few months, I am reminded of so many happy, successful moments that involved my patients and their families.  From giving good news that a tumor was benign, to helping a lost pet get back home due to the simple power of a microchip, and treating a little miracle kitty who ate a string and lost 70% of her intestine getting to go home and live a happy life.  These are the moments and the days I treasure and live for in my career as a veterinarian.

But sadly, the job isn’t always puppies and kittens or success stories.  It’s challenging at times to not become emotionally invested in our patients especially the ones we see fairly often if they have a current illness or chronic health problem.  Some of these patients are ones we can be completely confounded by.  Understandably, a pet not getting well is taxing on their family but it has a similar yet less devastating effect on the veterinary team.

Sometimes we will recommend you visit a specialist due to procedures being beyond the skills of a general practitioner.  Face it, there’s just some things they don’t teach you in the 4 years of veterinary school.  Other times, it’s the value of that specialized second opinion and a lot of the time they can help.

For Better or Worse

We (the vet team) try our best; nobody is perfect.  Some patients will keep us awake at night as we mull over what we should do next or contemplate the impending surgery the next day.  In the worst of cases after a few months or longer of dealing with a chronic illness, all we can do is help ease them of their suffering.  It’s in these moments that we realize it’s not possible to fix every problem or save every patient, no matter how hard we try.

This was the case with Maggie.  A very sweet dog, with an even sweeter owner.  Maggie was adopted with known problems that her family diligently addressed and more so if new ones appeared.  Maggie was a patient of mine for almost 3 years and her skin was the biggest issue that nobody was ever able to figure out.  This past fall Maggie developed cancer and combined with her other issues, it was time to say goodbye.  I hated that we couldn’t help her.

harsh reality of vet med

One of my last visits with Maggie

And so it goes, we have to pick up the pieces because there are more pets that need help.  In all this though, we take the experience and information we learned from one pet and, perhaps years later, remember the lessons they taught us to hopefully help another.

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain some opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers. 

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Dear Gord

Guest Author – Mandy Jackson, RVT

Gord megaesophagus fosterI put a dog to sleep yesterday.  He was my foster dog.  He came to me quite ill, and with a disease I knew I couldn’t cure.  Gord had megaesophagus.  What that meant for him was that his esophagus, the “tube” that carries food from your mouth to your stomach, was stretched out like a balloon that has been blown up and deflated dozens of times.  The muscular contractions, called peristalsis, that help move your and waste through your body did not occur in his esophagus.  I described it as though he had something like a pelican pouch in his throat.  When he ate, much of his food and water would collect in this “pouch”, rather than being digested in his stomach and intestines.  He regurgitated a lot of what he was fed.  He came to me emaciated, needing to gain about 35% of his body weight, a daunting task for both of us.  How do you get a dog who can’t maintain his weight to gain 20 pounds?

megaesophagus foster walkMegaesophagus is an awful disease.  To have a beautiful, kind and gentle soul in your home, starving despite your best attempts to feed him is heartbreaking for you, but unquestionably worse for him.  We tried several different textures and consistencies and with the help of a friend who also cared for Gord in her home while I was unavailable, we learned that “meatballs” worked best for him.  I’d roll his food into golf ball sized nuggets and toss them to him one by one, hold him sitting in the begging position and then go for a short walk.  Water was more difficult, but I taught him to drink from a huge rabbit bottle mounted so he had to hold his head up to drink.  After 3 weeks of trial and error I finally felt like we were on the right path.  That maybe, just maybe, he could be managed.  That he could potentially live a “normal” life.  For almost 5 days he gained weight and strength.  He was producing more urine, and it was becoming paler in colour, showing that he was better hydrated than before.  He walked faster on our short travels, not rude enough to pull me, but enthusiastic enough that I could feel a difference in him.  I was so very proud of him.

And then, on Thursday, I went to check on him in his run at work.  To give him his dinner and spend my lunch break walking him.  He had vomited 3 puddles of blood in his kennel.  My heart sank into my feet.  I will not go into more detail here, but it’s most likely that 2 years of poorly managed megaesophagus left his mind and spirit willing to recover, but his body just too damaged, the last 18 hours of his life caused a shocking transformation in his body and spirit.

Deciding to end the life of a foster is a uniquely horrible experience.  He wasn’t really “my” dog, but I had taken responsibility for his life and his care.  He was mine in trust, on loan, my temporary dog. I was only supposed to be a resting place, a bump in his road.  But there he was, getting sicker in front of me and waiting for me to make it better.  Not able to tell me how he felt, what he wanted.  I sat on my couch with his big, blocky, black velvet head in my lap and promised him that I would make it stop.  My beautiful Gord was not Gord anymore.  For the first time since I met him, he was in pain and that was not part of the deal I made with him.  I took him to work, one last sad car ride.  Carried him into the treatment room and gave his care over to 2 of the loveliest people I’ve ever met.  At the end of his life I wasn’t his nurse or his foster mom anymore.  I was just his person, finally.  Gord of No Fixed Address (the horrible nickname I gave him, a joke that started when a friend suggested I adopt him) was at home in my heart.  I climbed up on the table and wrapped myself around him, buried my face in that perfect spot behind every retriever’s ears and held him close.  He went quietly, left this world in the arms of someone who loved him enough to make that call. Gord with bear

Dear Gord,

I’m sorry.


Mandy Jackson RVT

Mandy Jackson is a registered veterinary technician at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic.  Mandy shares her home with her 2 dogs, Auden and Olivia, and her cat, Floyd Pepper.  When she’s not at work, she co-runs Friends of Willow Rescue (an all-breed rescue), is a busy foster-mom, avid reader and a recent convert to the joys of crocheting.

Be Excellent to Each Other!

From MGM

From MGM

One of the best movies of the last 30 years (though some may argue this point with me), is “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”  Yes, under the facade of time travel, best friends, air guitars and some sweet music – okay, so let’s agree to disagree – is a moral message.  The boys’ mission through time with a goal to make future society a place where people enjoy everlasting peace and compassion towards each other.  I think anyone who works in an animal related field and anyone who interacts with these people (so if you have pets) should take some advice from this small plot point to make other people lives better.  It’s like a circle where we can all support each other.  “Be excellent to each other.”


From Bell.ca/letstalk

Every year, Bell Canada sponsors #BellLetsTalk which aims to help end the stigma around those who suffer from mental health issues and who may be afraid to seek help.  This has been a significant problem facing those in the veterinary and animal care fields where depression and compassion fatigue are at the forefront.  Compassion fatigue is also known as secondary traumatic stress disorder.  While previously noted in human health care workers, it has been well documented in recent years that veterinarians and those in animal care fields suffering from compassion fatigue are more prone to taking their own lives than the general population.  Four times as likely which is a frightening number (multiple studies show this).  They are also twice as likely as other healthcare professions to take their own lives.  There have been many theories or known factors that contribute to this but ultimately and unfortunately we do not fully understand why as each person’s case is different.

A few commonly known aspects are that veterinarians deal with death far more often than anyone else (except maybe a morgue employee).  Euthanasia, or a humane & peaceful death, is a common and accepted practice in working with animals.  It is both a gift and a curse – we are able to relieve suffering but at the same time some of us can harden our hearts too much or become numb to the act.  This can make some of my colleagues feel that taking their own life is more justifiable.  This is the main contributor to compassion fatigue.

There are specific traits of every veterinarian, technician, vet assistant, animal shelter worker, etc.  First, we deeply care about animals, our patients.  If they don’t do well, many vets & staff can take it personally and given our tendency to expect the best, this can leave us vulnerable to depression, feelings of failure, and in the worst cases a person can feel as though they must pay for their failure.  Secondly, while we expect perfection from ourselves, it is often also demanded from our clients – the pet owners.  We understand how much you love your pets, we have pets ourselves.  We do everything in our power to get them back to feeling well and into your loving home.  This sometimes can include working 60-70 hours a week, not taking sick days or vacation, and forgoing time with our friends or family.

from www.veterinaryteambrief.com

from www.veterinaryteambrief.com

Sometimes the stress of this interaction becomes more than some people can bear.  Such was the case with a New York veterinarian named Dr. Shirley Koshi who went bankrupt, received death threats, and unable to continue running her clinic due to a smear campaign on social media & unfounded litigation, decided to take her own life.  This was directly resultant after a good Samaritan brought a stray cat into a clinic that needed care, which Dr. Koshi provided, and a person claiming this cat was part of her outdoor colony led the boycotts and lawsuit.  She was just doing what was best for the cat, at her own expense, with her own time.  Another high profile loss was that of Dr. Sophia Yin, renowned veterinary behaviorist.  Sadly, there are often no answers as to why she and many others have chosen that path.  If you were to ask a veterinarian if they personally knew a colleague who took their own life, it’s a fair chance that over 66% of them do.  My wife & I both fall into this category.

from www.spunkyfluff.com

from www.spunkyfluff.com

To wrap this up, there are things everyone can do to help.  If you work in the veterinary field: veterinarian, technician, client services, management, kennel staff…be respectful and friendly to your co-workers.  If you think they are having trouble or seem distressed, reach out to them.  Let them know you are there to talk.  If you are the one being affected, there are people that care about you and places you can get help.  For those of you who are not in the veterinary field (friends, family, clients), know that we are trying our best for you and let us know that we are appreciated.  Don’t be afraid to be respectfully honest with us either when we are caring for your pets.  As long as we have open lines of communication between everyone involved, we will do our best for everyone involved – pets, vets, pet owners, and everyone who is working to keep animals happy and healthy.  Be excellent to each other; you never know what the other person may be going through.

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain opinions which may not reflect those of my current or former employers.

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