The Deadly Flea Bath

Find out how a flea dip turned into euthanasia.

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You may have seen it: the news story that came out recently about a cat that was dropped off for a flea bath and was euthanized instead. Of course that is a terrible tragedy, and for those of us in the veterinary profession, it is particularly difficult to hear. We give our lives, often to the exclusion of our own personal needs, to care for those animals that need us; to see one destroyed by accidental euthanasia is unthinkable for most of us.

So where do we go from here, given this awful news and the blemish it makes on our profession? Nothing will bring Lady back. Knowing that Lady had been given to this woman by her daughter, who is no longer living, only deepens the wound. There is no consolation … but perhaps for those of us in the profession, there can be knowledge to gain. Lady’s life doesn’t have to be in vain.

flea bath

We often scoff at “protocols,” which are time-consuming to write, oftentimes difficult to implement, and even more challenging to maintain, but it is “protocols” that would have prevented this mistake. In fact, the woman who owned Lady commented, “I’m sure there are standards of practice they have to follow.” Here are a few that come to my mind (keep in mind, all of my opinions and/or observations are based on the original news story of Sep. 23, 2012, by the Associated Press, and do not include any details gained since that time):

• The son took Lady to the veterinarian. Although he was 24 years old, above the age where parental consent is considered necessary, was it an unusual situation for his family to have sent Lady with the son? And particularly for something as serious as the assumed euthanasia?
• The son claims he was given the wrong paperwork to sign. Whose job is it to prepare this paperwork ahead of time, or even at the time of the patient's arrival, and how did they mix up consent for a flea bath with consent for euthanasia?
• The son may not have read the paperwork before signing or misunderstood the content. Who's standing in front of this client representing the practice, and why did they not verbally confirm consent particularly giving tha thte presumption was pending euthanasia?
• The veterinarian euthanized Lady on the presumption that the signed paperwork was true. What veterinarian would euthanize an animal based only on a signature, without having verbal consent or at least a conversation regarding something as permanent as euthanasia?
• Lady was dropped off at the practice. Is it common for this practice to allow animals to be dropped off for a euthanasia, or at the very least an examination and discussion about why the animal may need to be euthanized?

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So many points of interaction with the people, paperwork, and protocols that it seems like just ONE of them could have prevented accidental euthanasia. We may scoff at protocols and consider ourselves schooled enough to proceed without either having or sticking to a prescribed protocol, but hopefully this story will help us learn that without standards of practice, standard operating procedures, protocols and rules, tragedy is closer than we think.

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