A tweet from a pet owner about the emotional toll that euthanizing animals takes on veterinarians when owners leave the room has sparked a conversation on social media.
“Asked my vet what the hardest part was about his job & he said when he has to put an animal down 90% of owners don’t actually want to be in the room when he injects them so the animal’s last moments are usually them frantically looking around for their owners & tbh that broke me,” read the tweet, posted earlier this summer.
As the post went viral, another message from an unidentified veterinarian, shared by the Hillcrest Veterinary Hospital in South Africa, urged pet owners not to abandon their pets when they are needed most.
“Do not make them transition from life to death in a room of strangers in a place they don’t like,” the vet wrote. “The thing you people need to know that most of you don’t is that THEY SEARCH FOR YOU WHEN YOU LEAVE THEM BEHIND!!!!”
But Dr. Katja Lang, a veterinarian at the Heart of Chelsea Animal Hospital in New York, said she would never judge owners for how they handle a very traumatic and very personal experience. It is, after all, emotional even for a professional who regularly performs euthanasia.
“It never becomes easy,” Lang told TODAY. “As vets, we get to know the patients, we get to know the clients. So we’re invested emotionally.”
That means she and her technicians provide as comfortable an environment as possible for the dog or cat – speaking calmly, lots of petting, soft lighting and even holding the animal in their arms if they’re small enough.
“At the end of the day, if I’m putting a pet to sleep, I’m doing it because I feel the pet is suffering and there is nothing more I can do medically,” said Lang.
“This is something we can do to help them. That’s why most people became veterinarians in the first place, because we care about animals.”
Amy Nichols, vice president of Companion Animals at The Humane Society of the United States, told TODAY that most animal euthanasia cases are the result of long-term health issues and are planned in advance. That should give owners time to prepare themselves.
“We would also coach them that you made this really challenging decision, you want to be with them in their last moments,” said Nichols. “You’re their people. You’re their main pack.”
Lang suggests that even if owners have to leave the room, there are acts of kindness they can do to help their animal transition.
“It helps to bring familiar items with you – a bed, a blanket or a familiar smell, even a toy,” said Lang. “If your pet likes chicken or roast beef, bring all off that.
“While I’ve been performing euthanasia, I’ve had pets scarfing down meals.”
Nichols recommends looking into at-home pet euthanasia services because pets and their owners are spared the stress of a visit to the vet’s office.
She actually experienced that pain firsthand in 2012 when she had to euthanize her beloved dog, Griffin, after his cancer caused a sharp downturn in health just one week after the Boston terrier’s 15th birthday. He was blind, but he could sense her presence in his final moments after the first injection sedated him and the second injection stopped his heart.
“I felt he had more of a sense of peace than a sense of fear,” recalled Nichols, who described those last moments as “extremely hard.”
“Death is uncomfortable and is really sad for a lot of people,” she added. “But (being with them) is the last gift we can give to them for being our companions for all those years.”