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Horrible euthanasia.

Species: Cat
Breed: Persian
Age: 5-8 years
Lucy has had steroid injections for the last 18 months due to loss of fur and skin infections.I took her to the vet last Friday and was told that she had several small hard lumps on her kidneys.These were probably cancerous and it would be best to put her to sleep.If left her end could be very unpleasant for her.I agreed for Lucy to be euthanised and the vet started to inject what appeared to be a green liquid into her flank saying that it would relax her.She started to scream and the vet withdrew the syringe and said he would need to have an assistant to help.Insread of the liquid relaxing her he said it had made her rigid.I left the nurse and the vet alone with Lucy and had to listen to the most horrendous screams and groans from the room.I was standing in the waiting area shocked and shaking watched by the other clients who could also hear the groans and screams.I opened the door to see the nurse holding Lucy by the scruff of her neck and jamming her head onto the table.I had to leave the room and eventually the noises stopped.I went to see Lucy,now dead, and her beautiful amber eyes were bulging and looked full of terror and pain The vet said that the problem had been that Lucy would not let him pull out her leg to inject.I looked after Lucy and kept her safe for 7 years and am having trouble getting the sounds and the sights of her last few moments out of my head.Can you help ? Do you know why the relaxation injection had the opposite effect ? The following day I left a message for the vet to call me so that I could ask him what exactly went wrong but he did not call.Lucy came from a Persian rescue centre and loved her home with me.It seems so sad for her life to end in this manner.



Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh no. I am so sorry to hear that you had to go through this.

I have done probably thousands of euthanasias and while the vast majority of them are extremely peaceful, occasionally I will have a horrendous situation like this one. I know it is very traumatic for you. I can also tell you that it is very traumatic on the veterinary staff as well.

It sounds like the medication that was given initially was likely a combo that contained ketamine. With most cats the combo of a drug such as diazepam and ketamine will cause relaxation and an almost comatose state. From this state it is usually fairly easy for the veterinarian to find a vein and administer the euthanasia solution.

There is the odd animal though that can react to the medication and this may be what happened to Lucy. Ketamine can cause hallucinations in some animals.

The obvious question that most people ask is that if ketamine can cause this type of reaction, why use it? The problem is that every drug has potential side effects. If we give no medication then the act of trying to find a vein on a sick animal can be extremely stressful on the animal, veterinary staff and owner. Other medications can cause similar reactions but they happen more often than with ketamine. If I had to guess, I would say that out of my ketamine sedated euthanasias, perhaps less than .5 percent have this type of reaction.

I know it must have been horrible to see the nurse holding Lucy like she was. Please know that this was likely traumatic for the nurse as well. I have had similar cases where an animal is reacting badly to a medication. Your options are limited. If you let go of the animal then they can fall off of the table and sustain serious injury. If you don't hold them well enough, they can bite and scratch and severely injure the staff. I am positive that the nurse was doing what she had to do to secure Lucy as quickly as she could so that they could do the final injection as quickly as possible.

Please know that this is no one's fault. Do not allow yourself to feel guilt about having her put to sleep. You could not have prevented this.

The good news is that ketamine tends to cause what is called a dissociative state and what that means is that when an animal is reacting in a crazy way there are likely not conscious of what is going on. The look of terror that you saw on her eyes may not have been terror. Usually the drugs used in euthanasia will cause the pupils to dilate and this is probably what you saw.

I am so sorry for your loss. I absolutely hate situations like this. As vets we got into the profession so that we could help animals and no one wants to see a situation like this.

Dr. Marie

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.