About 6 years ago, I had my first anaesthetic. I had just passed my 50th birthday, and I thought myself lucky not to have had one before. Personally, I had given hundreds if not thousands of general anaesthetics to animals by then. I was still worried at the thought of a ‘general’. In life. you’re never closer to death than when you’re under a GA. My worry came from giving away the responsibility for my life to a stranger. They are only human and even anaesthetists can have bad days.
The procedure was pretty minor, and so I didn’t receive any pre-med (sedative or pain-relief) before the op. I lay there on the table, various machines reading my vital signs. The anaesthetist introduced himself, and introduced a catheter into a vein on the back of my hand. Then boom. The most severe huge spreading pain in my arm. It felt like it had been run over by a lorry. I shouted out. The pain lasted no more than two seconds before the anaesthetic knocked me out… But I can still remember the pain – even now…
Vets have used a barbiturate anaesthetic to put pets to sleep for as long as I can remember. Once the euthanasia decision has been taken, a vet will inject the barbiturate and everything comes to a halt. When I started work in the 1980s, vets usually injected straight into a vein with a needle. But needles can come out of the vein and the drug may end up being injected into the wrong place. And unfortunately barbiturate is extremely irritant to tissues – it will cause immense pain for an animal when this happens.
The catheter problem: So now most good vets set up catheters to reduce the chance of this problem occurring. Catheters are tricky to introduce. It is a fiddly process. The majority of dogs and cats will feel it and they may struggle. So vet Nurses usually hold the pet for the catheter to be introduced. To save the owner’s distress at seeing their pet in discomfort and struggling, many vets now take the pet “out back” to be catheterised. They then bring him/her back to the owner for the ‘final injection’.
This is the barbiturate injection. There is no evidence that this is painful if given properly into the vein. But on many occasions during my career, when the single injection method is used, I have witnessed dogs and cats showing a surprised reaction – they open their eyes wide, they tense up. Sometimes they vocalise. They may scrabble and appear to resist. Which is very similar to my experience during my first anaesthetic!
99% of vets still use the single injection method to euthanase dogs and cats. Because of my personal experiences, I am very uncomfortable with it. So I now only ever use my Quietus Vet 3-Stage Technique.
The 3-Stage Technique is my (Quietus Vet) solution to the failings of the single and double injection methods: In the 3-Stage Technique, I give a mixture of sedation and pain relief first. A very simple tiny injection under the skin. Then we convert this sleepiness into a proper general anaesthetic – again with a small injection under the skin. When a pet is totally unconscious under the GA, then and only then, do I give the final injection. This way, there can be absolutely no way that the ‘final injection’ can cause pain or distress. It is the only approach that I feel is humane. These are a pet’s final moments and they should be the best possible.
Quietus Vet – Caring Pet Euthanasia at Home.
The 3-Stage Technique carried out at home.
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Some vets – very few thankfully – will perform one injection euthanasia by injecting barbiturate straight into a pet’s heart with no sedatives, anaesthetics or even pain-relief. These few vets usually reserve this for smaller animals – cats, birds, and ‘small furrys’. It is extremely painful and is barbaric. It must be stopped. In the USA, it is enough to get a vet struck off from practising. Hopefully here too.
A few vets now use a 2 injection method – some will use sedation before giving the ‘final injection’. I feel this is a good thing and is a small step in the right direction. But the problem of introducing the catheter to a nervous anxious pet remains – the sedative is usually given that way because sedatives used in a 2 injection system may also sting if given any other way. So not perfect yet…
Quietus Vet – Caring Pet Euthanasia at Home