A few weeks ago a patient sat before me, quietly tearful. Like so many others, she was embarrassed to say that her cat’s illness was the cause of her distress. Putting a pet to “sleep” – a kind euphamism for euthanasia – is deeply upsetting for many.
This got me to thinking: if no vet were around, how would this task be accomplished (without a bullet or a hammer)? Even as a doctor I’ve never undertaken the procedure, so I asked one of our professionals, a practicing veterinarian, how he would go about it. He kindly provided the following answer. Thanks, Dwight. – Doc Cindy
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One of the unfortunate procedures that may need to be performed during a disaster is euthanasia of a pet. In the veterinary medical world this is rather efficiently and humanely performed by the intravenous injection of a solution containing concentrated sodium pentobarbital and phenytoin. This is usually dosed at 1 cc per 10 lbs body weight plus an additional 1cc.
This commercial solution or any barbiturates will likely be unavailable in a disaster, hence one may need to resort to other means of euthanasia. Some folks would opt for a small caliber round (.22 cal) appropriately placed at ~1 cm above the intersection of lines drawn between the left poll of the head to the medial canthus of the right eye and right poll of the head and the medial canthus of the left eye. For those who find this means too violent I will offer another alternative.
One of the simple, but useful pieces of equipment that should be in every disaster bag is a medium bore (i.e. 20, 18, 16 or 14 gauge) hypodermic needle. This can be used to suture (as a substitute for suture needle and needle holder) to close a wound by placing the tip of the needle on one outer edge of a laceration or incision and pushing it through the other side; then pass the suture material (or facsimile) through the needle, remove the needle and tie the suture. The other thing the needle can be used for is to exsanguinate the pet by placing the needle in the jugular vein or carotid artery and allowing for a slow, comatose-creating, more humane passing. This can be messy, but the end result is satisfactory and non-violent. In the early days of veterinary medicine, veterinarians used to use a technique called “bleeding” to remove the “vile humors” from the body (Hippocrates) of horses to treat a variety of illnesses. Thankfully we have progressed dramatically since those times.
Some folks have suggested an air embolus be introduced into a major vessel, but those produce significant amounts of pain as they occlude the vessels of the heart and lungs, so that’s not recommended.
T-61 is also a commercial, euthanasia solution which is not a controlled substance that veterinarians can acquire for you and could be kept in a “go bag” if you have pets, so that you can deal with this kind of eventuality, should it be necessary.
I wish there was an upbeat manner to discuss this process, but humanely taking any life is not for the faint of heart. I honestly hope you never have to use this information.
Copyright © 2011 Dwight E. Cochran, D.V.M., VCA Apex Animal Hospital, Apex, NC