Dealing with unexpected deaths at the vet clinic: Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

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Unexpected deaths of pets while at the vet clinic

Sometimes, due to the randomness of health and disease, or rarely, following mishaps, some animals die while being treated at the vet’s.

Sometimes, deaths happen just because they are the unlucky ones, the one in two thousand healthy pets that die during routine anaesthesia. Other times they die because of the severity of the illness: in some conditions, such as pancreatitis, there can be an unpredictable, mortality rate.

And in other exceptionally unusual cases, animals may die because of accidental happenings, such as last week in the UK when a vet accidentally gave a lethal injection to a puppy that she was trying to save.

Some people may ask how people find out about this type of mistake. Most animal operations happen behind closed doors and in theory it would be possible for vets to cover up their mistakes by telling lies. The point here is that while it is “permissible” for a vet to occasionally make a mistake accidentally, it is utterly unforgivable for a vet to tell a lie in a professional situation. They would be likely to be struck off and forbidden to practice if they did do this in an attempt to cover up something.

All of these cases are deeply distressing, for the owner in particular, and also for the vets involved. It’s important to have detailed discussions with your vet at such times, so that all of your questions are clearly answered. An investigation, often involving an autopsy, can help to reach some sort of full understanding about events, but sometimes questions remain. If an owner feels that a situation has not been adequately dealt with, they do have the option of talking to the Veterinary Council about what happened.

The law on compensation for loss of an animal

If a vet did indeed make some sort of error which led – or contributed – to the death of a pet, people often wonder about what sort of compensation might be due. The law in Ireland- and indeed in most of the world – is clear about what level of compensation is due to an animal owner who has lost their pet. Pets are seen as property under the law, and for that reason, financial compensation is only granted to the market value of that animal. This can seem wrong to an owner who feels distraught at the loss of a family member, but it is the way that the law sees the situation.  Damages for sentimental value, mental suffering, or emotional distress associated with the injury, illness, or death of an animal are not recoverable, however much an owner might feel that they should be due.

I have written more about this in a recent piece in the Daily Telegraph.

Questions from listeners

  • At what age do you spay kittens? Anne, Dublin.
  • My small dog has suddenly stopped walking on wooden floors and tiles. She used to run around the house but in the last few weeks she jumps from a mat to her bed I am worried, Chris
  • We have a 10 month old Bernese Mountain dog. His eyes are often red and weep a lot . They appear to be irritable. Is this normal?
  • I have an 11 month old border collie. She is very friendly, submissive, and usually in no way aggressive. She’s very good at feeding time and sits and waits until she’s told ‘ok’ before approaching the bowl. She was eating a bone last night and when I approached her to get her into her crate for the night she growled and snapped at me. She has in the past growled at my partner when he tries to take a bone or rawhide from her but not at me nor has she ever snapped. I think if she is given a treat she should be left alone to eat it but he thinks she needs to be taught that if we want to take it from her she should give it up easily as we are the boss. I fear by regularly taking it away he is making it worse. She’s totally submissive in every other way and loves people. What can I do to stop this?
  • We have 2 male 12 year old Jack Russell dogs . One of them is more nervous than the other and he wees non stop all around the walls of our patio. The smell is really really bad and daily hosing it down does nothing to get rid of it. You just can’t use the area as the smell is so bad. Is there anything we can do?
  • Waiting for an appointment for a ct for my 3 year old Springer to confirm Incomplete Ossification of the. Humeral Condyle (IOHC) can I walk him on leash while we wait?
  • What is Pete’s view on coursing? Hares running for their lives in Cavan Athy and Kerry tomorrow. When hit, hares suffer broken bones. Phil

To find out the answers, listen to the podcast below.

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