Confessions: Pet pain, death and dying

June 27, 2017

Caring for pets in their final moments is a frequent reality for veterinary professionals. Here are 30 of the most raw, poignant, honest and sometimes rueful confessions to highlight this special responsibility you have to your patients.

These confessions are part of a larger series where dvm360 examines all aspects of pain and death in your patients. By calling it a "dvm360 Leadership Challenge" we invite you to become a thought leader in this segment of the profession. Click on the logo to learn more. Death, dying and pain in our pets-it can be emotional turmoil for all involved, especially veterinary care providers. You battle inner conflict (you wish something about the case was different, or you wish the client could understand what you know, or a million other things) despite your responsibility to remain a calm, steadfast presence in the waves of emotion surrounding the pet's passing. 

The editors noticed that not only did so many of the Vet Confessions have to do with pets' pain and death, they also brought out emotional responses in us. Reading these, we teared up, sighed with frustration and yes, we'll admit-even chuckled at some of the more unusual or exasperating circumstances you deal with all the time. 

This selection of 30 confessions is meant as a reflection on your special role at the end of a pet's life. 


"When people say 'euthanasia must be the hardest thing you do,' I don't tell them, 'Actually, it's the easiest, plus the owners are waaaay more grateful.'"


"I had to move 30 minutes away from my ER clinic because too many people 'thanked' me for the euthanasias I performed, and I didn't remember them."


"I had an MD ask (while I was euthanizing his dog), 'Are you sure you're in the vein? It shouldn't be hard to inject?' I kept calm and said 'It's very thick' and thought to myself, 'And how any times have you injected euthasol?'


"Sometimes I am secretly thankful when an owner declines treatment and euthanizes because I am too busy with other critical things. Am I a horrible person?!?!"


"We had a client that refused to euthanize their dog. The vet offered to make the pet 'comfortable' by offering 'pain injections.' The vet openly admitted she hoped the injections helped the pet pass away."


"The longer I do this (15.5 years now), the more I feel like saying to some clients-REALLY?! 5 days of limping for your 100+ lb dog, but you insist it HAS to come in at 6 p.m. on Friday. Then I feel guilty for not wanting to help the dog …"


"I work ER and do a lot of euthanasia. So often clients say, 'I don't know how you can do this.' In truth, it's easier in the ER. The pets and owners are strangers. I am sad at the situation, but I just met them 15 minutes ago. It's easier to separate from the grief than it was in general practice."


"I still cry a bit after each euthanasia-especially if the male owner starts crying."


"I do mostly home euthanasias and feel bad for not doing regular medicine and surgery anymore. I am good at it and clients appreciate me, but I feel like I'm not a 'real' doctor sometimes."


"I provide a gentle death to pets who are suffering. I wonder if my death will be as kind as the type I provide for animals."



"Sometimes I give SQ fluids to patients whose [owners] aren't ready to let go. I whisper, 'It's okay to die in your sleep. Mom or Dad will be okay,' in their ear real quiet."



"A dog was dying, end-stage renal from ethylene glycol, still meaner-than-snot, and the owner asked us to collect semen so they could continue his bloodline!"


"I struggle with self-mutilation. I cut myself whenever I lose a patient. I wish owners could understand how deeply it affects me."


"When tragedies occur, I tell myself at least it wasn't someone's child. (Yes a fur kid, but it's different.)"


"I made a mistake that probably killed a dog. I myself would like to trade places with that dog."


"I just lost my first personal pet. I should have euthanized sooner and I'm so mad at myself for letting him suffer that last day. I hope he forgives me. We love you, Smokey."


"Sometimes I just want to tell owners they've done enough. Please let 'Fluffy' go. I hate watching them circle the drain for days on end!"



"Why do clients decline medication that greatly improves quality of life but insist on getting a nail trim?"


"My thoughts really aren't with all the owners who lost a pet."


"Had a client 'visit' her euthanized cat for each day of the week! It's always fun to thaw a cat out six times!"


"I once euthanized a long-term patient of mine. The dog was a mean cocker spaniel who was biting the owner as I was euthanizing her. The owner said, 'Oh, Missy. You never gave me a moment of happiness.' She had spent over $25,000 on this dog's care."



"I have vowed that I will never say 'So sorry for your loss.' It is the most generic response to the most personal event … as I found out when my mom died. Pass it on!"


"Two weeks into my new job I had to euthanize a blind kitten. I was overwhelmed and poorly mentored and to this day I wonder if there might have been a home for her (maybe even with me). Sorry Cali. Why didn't I do my job and try to save you?"


"For clients who won't decide to euthanize a pet that clearly needs it, I wish there was a drug I could give that would let the pet die peacefully at home about 12 hours later so they would think he 'passed naturally.' Yes, I know it's unethical, but it would be a kindness to the pet."


"True story: Turn the radio off during euthanasias! As I was giving one final injection, Queen was singing 'Another one bites the dust' in the background."


"If you have to euthanize a mini horse … use the same dose of euthanol as you would for a regular horse."



"I absolutely hate breeders. It breaks my heart knowing so many animals suffer from the moment they are born. Hearing a client say, 'Just euthanize her, if she can't give us babies what is she good for?' is heartbreaking and extremely infuriating."


"My fiancé is a better assistant for euthanasias than my coworkers. He has never worked in vet med."


"I haven't felt anything when I euthanize a pet since my husband died 14 years ago."


"I hate that money always stands between my ability to save a life and drives my ability to end a life. Euthanasia should be the right choice, not the easy choice. Love to the animals I could have saved."