2022 AAEP Convention Bonus Coverage: Humane Euthanasia

veterinarian checking health of spotted horse on paddock

Huh, Who’d Have Thought?

Part Two: Work/Life Balance, Compassion Fatigue but No Yoga?! 

The 2022 AAEP Annual Convention started out with a bang! First, I noticed all the attendees admiring Ember’s majestic beauty before tilting their heads oh so slightly 22.3 degrees. Then, voila, they finally saw the emu. For those of you still in the dark, here it is:

Throngs of attendees followed the emu posters all the way up to the Stars at Night Ballroom. There, we attended the keynote address by John Townsend, PhD, on setting boundaries and saying no. His focus was ensuring that veterinarians remain healthy and free from burnout, by not blindly saying yes to every demand placed upon us. This push on mental health in the veterinary industry is much needed, as we all know. And veterinarians are embracing work/life balance more than ever. 

Or are we?

Bring Yoga Back Movement

Do we say that we want work/life balance but just don’t know how to accept the olive branch that the AAEP holds out for us? Let’s take yoga for example. The AAEP traditionally offers complementary yoga during the Annual Convention as part of their wellness program. Except not this year. Why, you ask? Not because the AAEP wills us unwell. Instead, it’s because of “lack of interest,” according to an AAEP spokesperson who answered my panicked e-mail at 8 pm Thursday night. After recovering from my shock and disappointment, I did the math. According to my calculations, if the convention hosts more than 3,000 in-person attendees each year, then we could convince the AAEP to reinstate yoga in 2023 if only 1% of attendees express interest. (That’s 30 people, people!) 

To show my dedication to the Bring Yoga Back movement, I began planning a yoga flash mob to take place in front of the registration desk. I approached some of my colleagues who I thought might support my vision. They led me to believe this was a fabulous idea. Together, we planned out how we could “borrow” towels from our hotels and strike child’s pose until the AAEP heard our voices. And if we were really daring, we might even try a happy baby. My colleagues were so moved by this image and my dedication to Bring Yoga Back, they had tears streaming down their cheeks. If you agree we should Bring Yoga Back, contact the AAEP using this link.

Finding a Work/Life Balance

Although I clearly jest, the truth remains that many of us still struggle to find work/life balance. A fact that my two older kids have picked up on. As they both embark on their college careers, they have caught wind of a vision of what their lives might look like if they follow in my footsteps. Cue not one but two synchronous existential crises. 

As a result, I have been bombarded with questions like, What’s the point of life? Do we really go to school, accumulate massive debt, then do the same job day in and day out for the rest of our lives? Feeling unsure of how best to answer these important questions, I did what every responsible but hip mom does these days. I found a meme that tried to portray why I work as hard as I do to make life as great as I can. 

But my kids—avid members of the instant gratification generation—didn’t even acknowledge receiving this tear-jerking, profound, life-altering meme. When I asked why, they claimed, “It was too long to read.” 

As beautiful as our lives as veterinarians are, one aspect that is never easy is humane euthanasia. It’s an unavoidable procedure that contributes to the compassion fatigue plaguing our profession.   

2022 AAEP Convention Presentation: Humane Euthanasia

During a presentation late yesterday afternoon, Catherine Alexander, DVM, ABVP, from Colorado State University described an alternate, possibly smoother way, to humanely euthanize horses.

Alexander relayed that euthanasia is a common clinical procedure. The traditional way of performing euthanasia is IV administration of pentobarbital following heavy sedation. In 2022, however, the American Veterinary Medical Association approved intrathecal euthanasia. This procedure requires induction of general anesthesia prior to administering lidocaine into the intrathecal space via atlanto-occipital spinal tap.

Intrathecal lidocaine might be preferable to IV pentobarbital, because despite pentobarbital being quick, it is:

  • Sometimes unavailable (as we have discovered recently);
  • Not always quick and easy to administer;
  • Expensive; and
  • Able to contaminate the environment and scavengers.

The advantages of intrathecal lidocaine are:

  • Inducing general anesthesia leads to a smoother transition to lateral recumbency;
  • Lower costs to the client and your practice;
  • Easier drug access; and
  • Decreased residues in the horse. 

Instead of using lidocaine, Alexander and colleagues looked at using mepivacaine for humane euthanasia. In that study, all horses were sedated with detomidine regardless of procedure. Horses in the mepivacaine group were anesthetized with a ketamine/valium mixture IV prior to euthanasia. Horses in the pentobarbital group were not anesthetized, as it’s not typically done in practice. 

As expected, intrathecal mepivacaine took longer to achieve cessation of all vital parameters. But, the transition to lateral recumbency was smoother with less paddling and agonal breathing. 

Time from sedation to cessation of vital parameters in the mepivacaine group was about 10-15 minutes, which is longer than traditional IV pentobarbital. According to Alexander, this is fine as long as veterinarians prepare clients for what to expect. This includes describing to the owners what the procedure “looks like” beforehand.

“The spinal needle can be intimidating,” she warned. 

On the plus side, the longer length of time until cessation of vital parameters means that owners can be with their horse. 

“They’re in a safe space to spend time with their animal,” Alexander relayed.

Mental Health Awareness at the 2022 AAEP Convention

Alexander’s presentation was very informative falling into the category of “Who’d have thought.” As you consider this technique, be sure to practice mindfulness. Check in on yourself and assess your wellbeing using this valuable AVMA resource.

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