Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to humanely euthanize a pet fish

Years ago, when I hoped time would make minds forget, I promised Rick that Truman could have a dog for his sixth birthday. The idea was that our then-baby would be old enough to participate in his puppy’s care and I would not be solely responsible for the pup. But I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I would be the one maintaining the dog, and so I hoped that the comment I made in a moment of weakness (there was likely some wine involved, too) would be forgotten.

Fast-forward two years, and here we are staring down the barrel of Truman’s sixth birthday. I was discussing party options with him and he said, “I want a puppy for my birthday.” I said, “ Wouldn’t you rather have asaltwater fish tank instead?” He responded, “Yes. I think I would. And I could get the puppy for my 13th birthday.” I said, “Deal!” so fast my husband actually looked up from the New York Times to see what the ruckus was about.


Coco Conundrum inspects our new fish, Picasso II.

Obviously, some research is in order since we have a particular talent for killing betas, goldfish and other freshwater fish. So over cocktails at our house the other day I asked my friend, who is also a veterinarian, if he treated fish and had any saltwater fish advise. He said, “No, but I did have someone ask me to euthanize their fish once.”

He said a client had made an appointment for a fish euthanasia, and he was surprised to see it on the books. The fish wasn’t sick or in pain, mind you. The woman, for whatever reason, just wasn’t able to care for the fish any more. She loved the fish. He would talk to her every morning and blow bubbles at her as she scatteredfood in his tank. Giving him away to another human just didn’t seem … humane. The only resolution that made sense was sending him on to the afterlife, humanely. And that’s when she turned to my friend, her vet.

Over emptying glasses of sauvignon blanc, the gathered group of friends and I joked about the many ways fish could meet their demise – the giant flush, the old don’t-clean-the-tank-for-a-month, sticking the guppy in the freezer, and forcing our Coco Conundrum on the little guy. But euthanasia, my veterinarian friend explained, is different. Euthanisa means giving someone (or something) an easy and painless death, and an appropriate technique should provide rapid unconsciousness followed by cardiac or respiratory arrest and ultimate loss of brain function. He was being paid to give this woman’s pet a humane death and he had to do it properly. After all, she would be witnessing the entire thing.

My friend admitted to his customer that he had never euthanized a fish before, but he did do his research. One suggested technique involved grasping the fish by the tail and whopping his head against a wall. We all agreed with him that witnessing such a death would have been a bit painful for the fish’s owner. My friend finally settled on a more humane-sounding practice. First, he added a smidgen or so of eugenol, also known as clove oil, to the fish’s water. That got the fish feeling no pain and maybe a little sleepy. Then he poured in a jigger of ethanol, also called pure grain alcohol, the same stuff that courses through the veins of most fraternity houses. The technique worked like a charm, killing the fish quickly, swiftly and humanely.

And now you know how to euthanize a pet fish. Rest in peace, little guppy.

Photo, JWJourney

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