Supervet and the challenges of Pet euthanasia
I never watch daytime television.Firstly I’m usually here at City Road vets dealing with the hustle and bustle of working within a busy clinic and secondly, there is little that I find of interest.
Earlier this week, I had the misfortune of picking up the Noravirus which as well as causing a little “tummy upset” also knocked me sideways and laid me low for 3-4 days. The only TV program of moderate interest for me was “The Supervet”. For those of you that are not aware, this is a documentary which follows the work of orthopaedic specialist, Professor Noel Fitzpatrick AKA “The Bionic Vet” and his team within his referral facility in Surrey.
Noel is one of the foremost prominent veterinary orthopaedic surgeons worldwide. In addition he has devised, tested and performed numerous new procedures and implant systems, including new joint replacement techniques, limb amputation prosthetics spinal disc replacement.
Fitzpatrick referrals is an amazing facility which was set up privately by Noel in 2005. The mind boggles as to the monies required to set up such a centre of excellence which has in addition to the hospital has onsite CT,MRI and a dedicated hydrotherapy suite. From what I know of Noel, having met him and having chatted to university pals of his, is that he is incredibly driven, dedicated and passionate about the job he does. That certainly comes across on screen in bucketloads. He works incredibly long hours, lives on site, admits he has no personal life. He lives, sleeps and dreams Fitzpatric referrals.
Channel 4 have done an incredible job with “The Supervet”. As a nation in recent years, we have become addicted to the docu- vet TV show which gives you a warm, fluffy feeling inside, starting with Rolf Harris and Animal Hospital, VetSchool ( remember Trude Mostue and her pals) and now “The Supervet”. Have you noticed how all of the cases so far have ended well. All of the patients with broken bones, dislocated hips, and exploded slipped discs have been recommended surgery and all have done phenomenally well.Even the elderly dog with bone cancer treated by amputation of the effected limb survived 12 months post surgery. This is my one quibble with Channel 4 in that I feel the subject of pet euthanasia , a daily occurrence in any veterinary practice is hardly touched upon, but needs to be for the program to be more balanced.
Pet euthanasia is a necessity in veterinary practice. It is the one true last gift that an owner can impart onto the pet.At City Road vets, rarely it is done on the basis of the owner being unable to afford our fees because we will always attempt to do what we can for the patient within the financial constraints of the client. Usually it is carried out once it is clear that that pet has reached the end of his life , and that the quality of life is just no longer there.
Euthanasia, although always a difficult thing to have to do , as a veterinary surgeon can also be very satisfying. Knowing that the whole process has gone as smoothly as possible, that the patient fell asleep in no discomfort or distress, that the client appreciates and recognises that you have done what you can in a very difficult, emotional and stressful time. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan. As a vet , you may be dealing with aggressive animals, it may be that you are unable to find a vein to inject the overdose of anaesthetic, the lighting may be poor (especially on home visits), the clients may be very aggrieved, which can often lead to highly charged emotions on display.
At this point in time, it’s best to take a backwards step, take a breather, let things settle down before trying again. Sometimes it might be necessary even to sedate the animal before proceeding.
Although Euthanasia is a very clinical term, and one might be tempted to use euphemisms such as putting him to sleep, letting him go/slip away, I always attempt to use the word “Euthanase” so that there is no doubt about what I am about to do. Indeed recently, there has been a horrific case reported up country whereby a miscommunication between vet and client resulted in an otherwise healthy animal being euthanased.
Onto happier things . This is a case that not even the Supervet would have operated upon. Saffy is a beautiful, 3 year old Ragdoll cat. She came in as an emergency 1 month ago with severe discomfort around the tailbase region, and she was unable to use her tail. An Xray of her lower spine was taken and well, you don’t need to be a seasoned radiologist to see the problem. There has been a complete disruption of the tail vertebrae, consistent with a traction injury. To this day we still have no idea how this injury was sustained.
The problem with this injury is not only the gross trauma seen on the Xray, but also with the neurological problems associated. The nerves that supply the bladder and rectum arise from the area damaged, and as such there is a strong possibility that Saffy may never be able to urinate and defaecate consciously ever again. Over the last month we have hospitalised Saffy and kept a very close eye on her. She has had to have her tail amputated , because it was just getting in the way and dragging on the injury. We have had to express her bladder twice daily and given her medications to keep her stools consistent and to open up the bladder sphincter to allow urine to drain out. She has remained incredibly bright, affectionate and vocal during this time and has proved remarkably resilient.
Yesterday she went home. The owners have been very supportive during Saffy’s hospitalisation period, visiting most days and have been exceptionally keen to learn how to care for her in the long term if her bladder and bowel function does not return. You see. Sometimes it’s not just our patients who are remarkable !!Here’s keeping everything crossed for Saffy for the future.