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Friday, November 18, 2011

Making The Boys Cry

It's never easy when you have to euthanize pets, especially when the owners cry in front of you.  And for whatever reason, it seems to be harder to see men cry than women.  Today I had opposite ends of the age spectrum of owners do this.

The first one was an elderly man on Social Security and a limited income.  His cat had had a decrease in appetite and was acting a little lethargic.  When I examined the kitty he was very sweet and purring, but had a noticable jaundiced appearance to his skin and gums.  This usually indicates a liver problem, but can also indicate red blood cell destruction.  Since this was a very obese cat who had lost 6 pounds (24 to 18 pounds) in a month, I was very worried about a serious and potentially deadly condition called fatty liver syndrome.  Because the owner didn't have much money we ended up euthanizing to keep the cat from suffering.  As we were talking about it and doing it, there were tears running down the man's face. 

The second one was later in the afternoon when a mother and her sons brought a hamster in.  I quickly saw that he had a large tumor around his testicles and rectum and a smaller but still worrisome tumor on his left hind leg.  There wasn't anything we could do, so I started gently talking about euthanizing him.  Before I actually came out with the words one of her sons started crying.  He was 10, the same age as my own son, and obviously taking it hard.  While crying he said he didn't want to do it, so I gave the mother some time alone in the room and she explained to him how this was better.  Thankfully the end was quick and painless for the hamster.

After both of those I felt pretty rotten.  I realize that in both situations we did what was best and most humane for the pet and the owners had every right to grieve.  That knowledge and assurance still didn't make me feel any better and I hated seeing the naked emotions.  But it's not the first time I've dealt with either circumstance, so I can make it through.

These are the human interactions that many vet students and new vets aren't prepared for, but will regularly be faced with.  We perform merciful actions and help ease animal suffering, but at the same time we are "causing" tears in the owners.  It's a sad necessity. 

Tomorrow I'll share a rather amusing comment that happened between these cases and kept the day from being a complete downer.


  1. I have broken down a few times in front of my vets and I am thankful for how wonderful they all have been. I don't handle bad news about my pets well. Their caring and thoughtful attitudes mean a lot to me, although there is no doubt it must be uncomfortable to have a sobbing person in front of you when there is nothing you can do to make it better.

  2. The hamster story reminds me of something that happened when I was 16 and working in a vet's office. He was out and a developmentally disabled man came in with his hamster. It was obvious the creature was close to death and the owner in tears. Not knowing what to do I took the little guy and promised his owner we would do our best. Put him in a little box with a wash cloth under a heat lamp.

    Vet came back, chuckled and said hamsters were my territory.

    Thankfully hamster died soon after and when gentleman came back we reassured him we did all we could. I am sure that man was still devastated but left knowing he did all he could for his pet.

    The next summer I got a position working with him and some of his buddies at a day program. Never looked back and still in the same line of work :)

  3. I broke down more than few times in front of my vets - once the vet even cried with me. I have to say though - while I am sure it can be uncomfortable for the vet to see that level of emotion, I wasn't focused on what the vet may have thought of me. I was grieving, loved both of my dogs, and figured it was understood that I would probably cry. I think it would only register if the vet said something cold like "hey, snap out of it" which is not likely. At least I hope not. All the staff in the office were understanding and I felt they understood.


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