Thursday, January 26, 2012

She can't live like this!

Thursday morning:
Ring! Ring!

VBB's Receptionist: Hello, World's Best Veterinary Hospital, how may I help you?
Client: My cat is dying. What should I do with the body if she dies while you're closed?
VBB's R: Hold on. What's going on with your cat? Do you want her to see the doctor?
Client: No, I don't want to pay for a visit. I just want her to die at home but then I don't know what to do with her body when she dies. Is there someone who will come get it?
VBB's R: We can see her today. Do you want to come in today?
Client: No, I just think she's dying. Please tell me what to do with the body.
VBB's R: Well, you can wrap her in trashbags and keep her in the freezer or garage until we open and then bring her to us for cremation if you like. But are you sure you don't want to have her see the doctor, even for euthanasia?
Client: No. I said I want to let her die at home!
VBB's R: Ok, I'm sorry. I'm sorry your cat is sick. Take care.

Friday morning:
Ring! Ring!

VBB's R: Hello, World's Best Veterinary Hospital, how may I help you?
Same Client: It's my cat! she's having trouble breathing. I'm on my way in with her.
VBB's R: Wait. Is this the cat that was supposed to be dying at home?
Client: Yes, but, I didn't think she was going to have trouble breathing! She can't live like this!
VBB's R: Well, no. When an animal dies, it stops breathing, and stops living. So, you're coming in?
Client: Yes, of course, I'll be there soon. [hangs up]

The client and her poor cat did arrive shortly after, and the cat was in fact having trouble breathing. The owner wanted us to fix the breathing so that she could take the cat home to die - but wanted to make sure the cat wouldn't continue to have episodes of trouble breathing. On the one hand - I do understand it is horrible to watch someone you love struggle to breathe. I have watched countless animals as well as a couple of humans do this, and it is just awful. On the other hand, like my receptionist said - when you die, you do stop breathing. Sometimes, when you're in the process of dying, you breathe irregularly for a while, and then do some gasping, because of the way CO2 builds up and triggers a reflex to breathe. Death is not like a Hollywood movie.

We ended up euthanizing the poor kitty because I could not promise that there would be no additional episodes of dyspnea. I hope the client wasn't too disappointed that her kitty didn't get to die at home.


  1. I completely understand that some people just want their pet to pass on peacefully without ever having to make that very difficult decision to euthanize. But, here's my problem with that: with the exception of the very-rare sudden death, dying at home is a long process which, to me, includes unnecessary suffering be it starvation, kidney failure or respiratory failure, it all sucks.

    I am happy that in these situations, the cat CAN still die at home without unneeded suffering: we offer at-home euthanasia. It isn't fun and can take longer than I would like, but the people who want them are SOOO grateful that it's worth it. No stressful last trips to the vet, surrounded by family +/- friends and in the pet's favorite spot.

    1. I used to want to do at-home euthanasias and I still feel they're an important service, however my first and last one went like this:

      Owners called in the morning to say that their 150 pound elderly rottie was in pain and could not stand up. They couldn't move her so could someone come out to the house for a euthanasia? Being a newly minted, enthusiastic vet I immediately volunteered and took a tech out to the house right away. I found the morbidly obese dog in the back of a dark, cluttered bedroom, wedged between the bed and a wall, with a ginormous tumor encompassing most of one thigh. I was assured that the dog was "friendly" but as soon as she saw us she decided that we needed to die that day as well and her forequarters were still mobile enough to make approaching her in that tiny corner very, very dangerous.

      The owner was in tears when we arrived and was nearly incapacitated with grief shortly thereafter. However, repeated unsuccessful attempts to even try to sedate the dog forced me to request that the owner help the tech hold the dog's head down with a large towel and a pillow. I gave her a huge dose of dexdorm and torb....15 minutes later she still tried to bite my face off when I came close. Another huge dose of dexdorm and torb and another awkward 15 minutes of standing outside with the sobbing owner...sleeping but still able to wake up and lunge drunkenly at me. Yet another repeat of this and she was growling and snapping but we were able to hold her down enough to get veinous access while the owner wept uncontrollably in a corner. I haven't done an at-home euthanasia since. I guess in theory it would go better with a cat.

    2. Awful! I don't blame you. Luckily, I haven't had such an experience. I suppose if I did, my tune would quickly change...

  2. Yes, but this way she can take her home in a plastic bag and keep her in the freezer!