Thursday 8 June 2023

Is cat euthanasia guaranteed always to be totally humane and painless?

 The question in the title, I think, is a fair one. 99.9% of the general public believes that euthanising a pet is painless and the humane thing to do when the animal is chronically ill and suffering persistent pain. Of course, we know that many pets are euthanised at the convenience of their owner or because they are unwanted. That, incidentally, is a symptom of the failure of cat and dog domestication but it is another story.

I am asking the question whether euthanising a cat with sodium pentobarbital is genuinely painless. When this drug is delivered to humans in 84% of cases their lungs fill up with a frothy liquid which causes pain and distress indeed panic because it is like waterboarding torture. How do cats feel when this drug is delivered to them? Image in public domain.

Perhaps the two words "painless" and "killing" simply cannot live together. It seems unnatural that we can kill animals painlessly because being killed would seem to be automatically painful in the natural world. At least in some way or other. Can it be entirely painless? We like to think it is. My research indicates that it isn't.

Even the best veterinarians, much-loved in their community, might occasionally screw up and make a botch of the euthanasia of a loyal customer's cat or dog. And some veterinarians do not follow sound procedures.

There are different ways to euthanize a pet at a veterinary clinic. You can employ the one jab injection of barbiturate anaesthetic, sodium pentobarbital, that's the simple route. But it can go wrong because the hypodermic needle might be misplaced or the vein might burst. The sodium pentobarbital might spill out into the body tissue which I'm told is painful. It may be very painful.

That's the first issue. And in any case, simply injecting a cat in a vein of itself is going to be at least potentially painful and probably actually painful.

We shouldn't forget, by the way, the distress/pain of the pet's owner who should really be present in the consultation room when their beloved companion is being humanely dispatched.

The way to avoid the above-mentioned difficulty in administering the killing drug is to apply an intravenous catheter to the animal and then you administer the drug through that catheter. It is a more controlled and predictable way of proceeding.

The problem here is that it can be difficult to apply the catheter. The animal might struggle. The owner won't like it and be distressed. They take the animal into a back room which I think is going to also distress the owner because they won't know what's happening.

Then they bring the cat or dog forward into the consultation room to administer the killing barbiturate anaesthetic. There could be a third step which is to apply a painkiller and sedation drug which renders the cat or dog unconscious before the final injection is applied.

In short, this could be or should be a three-stage process to guarantee that it is painless. That is: a catheter, a knockout drug which renders them in conscious, and then the third stage is the final barbiturate injection.

That's what the best veterinarians do to humanely euthanise a companion cat. However, as I understand it, most veterinarians don't do it this way. They might use the single injection which is I think problematic. Although they might use a two-stage process and avoid using the catheter which of itself is potentially problematic.

The point I'm making in this post is that it requires considerable care and a good method to ensure that the euthanasia of a companion animal at a veterinary clinic is genuinely painless and therefore humane. Sometimes it isn't on my understanding having researched the matter on the Internet. We don't have numbers to rely on to tell us if this is a big problem or a non-problem. I can't find the statistics. 

There is also the issue of the drug sodium pentobarbital which I have highlighted in the caption to the photo above.

Of course, you should know that I'm not a veterinarian and therefore reliant upon research. But I use the best sources and, in this case, these were veterinary websites.

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