Not that I was the doctor responsible for the case (I was merely shadowing and assisting), but the second day of my externship at the San Francisco SPCA ended rather unfortunately.
A shepherd mix presented with signs of lethargy and polycythemia but upon ultrasound and chest radiographs, it was discovered that the dog had pericardial effusion due to a bleeding hemangiosarcoma in the right atrium. The dog had poor blood pressure and pulses so we attempted to relieve some of the pressure on his heart by tapping the pericardial sac. The dog ended up going into ventricular tachycardia and started crashing. We attempted to stabilize his heart and got him to recover for one of his owners’ arrival, but the dog seemed to be bleeding into his lungs making it difficult to breathe, so the owner elected to euthanize to prevent the dog from suffering.
This was the first time I had been involved in an emergency with an owned animal and had the owner there beside me while the dog was put to sleep. I’ve euthanized many animals in shelters, but there is never an owner there crying beside you. Their emotions make it difficult for you to keep your emotions in check, and there were multiple points when I almost started crying. Fortunately I was able to maintain my composure and provide support to the owner at such a difficult time.
While I have no doubt that this dog received the best care possible and we did everything we could to save his life, the unfortunate part is that hemangiosarcomas on the heart are not treatable with surgery. Typically hemangiosarcomas of the spleen or liver are simply removed witht he organ. Unfortunately, it is impossible to survive the removal of the right atrium of the heart at this time.
The hardest part was that the dog wasn’t old — almost 7 years old — and came walking into the clinic hours earlier. It’s astonishing how healthy that dog appeared on the outside considering how sick he was internally. It’s also amazing how much can change in such a short period of time.
My thoughts go out to the owners and to anyone who’s ever lost a pet.