At-Home Pet Euthanasia

What to know if you're considering at-home pet euthanasia.

From the WebMD Archives

Bob, a Maine Coon mix, was never fond of the ride to the veterinarian. While the cat would purr placidly through the vet's exam, he pitched a fit and cried during the trip there.

"Riding in a car stressed him out terribly," says owner Sandy Volkman of Lakeville, Minn.

When Bob went into kidney failure at age 18, Volkman couldn't fathom driving him to be put down through her tears and his cries. Her veterinarian recommended Minnesota Pets, a Twin Cities-based mobile euthanasia service.

In October 2010, owner Rebecca McComas, DVM, put Bob out of his misery on his favorite blanket in the living room.

"It was so peaceful,' Volkman says. "He never had to leave his home and his familiar surroundings. We laid him on the couch between us and I just petted him and she gave him the injection."

These days, a growing number of services are available to euthanize your pet in your home. Some veterinarians say it's less stressful to allow a pet to pass more quietly and peacefully in familiar surroundings.

At-home euthanasia isn't for everyone. It may be difficult to schedule. Constant reminders of where your pet died may be upsetting. And things can go wrong that might be better dealt with in your veterinarian's office.

A Growing Field

Experts say interest in at-home pet euthanasia and the number of services offering it are increasing.

"Anecdotally, this is a growing trend, particularly since some pet owners prefer to have their animal pass in a familiar setting, at home, surrounded by members of the family," says David Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Only those registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can perform euthanasia using a barbiturate. Generally, it should only be done by veterinarians and licensed euthanasia technicians. But who can do it varies based on state law, Kirkpatrick says.

Ask your veterinarian if they provide this service well in advance of deciding whether to euthanize your pet. If they don't, they may be able to give you names of mobile vets or vets from other practices that do.

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How It Works

Shannon Stanek, DVM, owner of Exton Vet Clinic and Stanek Veterinary Housecalls in Exton, Pa., says she gets requests for home euthanasia weekly and sometimes daily. Appointments last 30 minutes to two hours.

Stanek typically brings a veterinary technician. After she arrives, she and the client take care of required paperwork. That includes a consent form and cost estimate.

Much is the same as it would be in her clinic. Stanek does a brief exam, particularly if she isn't the animal's regular veterinarian. The pet is then sedated using an intramuscular injection.

About five to 15 minutes later, a catheter is placed in the animal's vein and the euthanasia solution is given. By the time the injection is done, the pet's brain is usually no longer functioning and its heart has stopped pumping.

"You can get extra gasps by the pet or vocalization, but this is uncommon if sedated prior to final injection," Stanek tells WebMD.

Pros and Cons

One advantage to at-home euthanasia is that if local laws allow home burial, owners don't have to drive their pet's body home from the veterinarian's office. Stanek and most others also will take your pet's body back to the clinic for cremation or disposal.

Owners also can grieve alone rather than in front of other pet owners. They also don't have to worry about driving while distraught afterwards, Stanek says.

Minnesota Pets does only at-home euthanasia. McComas has three other veterinarians and a social worker trained in pet loss and grief support. She began her practice in 2010.

"I really think end-of-life experiences can be very positive," McComas says. "Death is really a part of life. For me, it's very much a privilege to do this work. I get to witness a very special and meaningful moment for the pet owner and their pet."

There are also drawbacks. Duffy Jones, DVM, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, isn't a fan of at-home pet euthanasia. He encourages most clients to come to the office since it's a more controlled setting.

"The last thing that I want is for something to go wrong or some sort of catastrophic event that will make this event harder for the pet owner and their pet," Jones says.

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In someone's home, lighting may be poor and tables unstable. Drugs may not work as expected. The veterinarian may have trouble finding a vein, particularly in dehydrated or elderly animals. The pet could have a seizure.

Moving a pet's body can be difficult -- especially if it's a big dog. "Many times, we cannot afford to bring many staff members," Jones says. "And I hate to have the owners see us struggle moving the body. I hate for that to be their last memory" of their pet.

While some feel their pet will be stressed coming to the office, that's not always true. Some dogs, for instance, enjoy car rides. Jones sometimes tells clients to give their pet an oral sedative before the trip. Another option is to call the vet from the parking lot so the pet can be sedated before it is brought into the hospital.

Things to Think About

If you're considering at-home pet euthanasia, take some time to think about the following things:

  • Does the vet know your pet? "We want to make sure that we have worked the pet up medically first before we consider [at-home euthanasia]," Jones says. "We do not perform euthanasia without knowing the patient beforehand or having a long conversation with the owner."
  • Timing. If you can't get somebody quickly, don't let your pet suffer. If your animal is having seizures or in respiratory distress, get it to an emergency hospital or veterinarian immediately.
  • It could be messy. When an animal is euthanized, it's not uncommon to see urine or a small amount of stool. "This is easily controlled with puppy pads, which we bring with us," McComas says.
  • Emotions. Think hard about whether you'll be able to deal with memories in your home. "We have clients who have had pets put down in an exam room in our hospital who won't go into that exam room again," Jones says.
  • Who should (or should not) be there. Decide in advance if you want to view the procedure or to have a friend, relative, or children present. Some find having other pets around comforting. "It's OK to drift in and out of the room as we go through this process," McComas says.
  • Cost. At-home pet euthanasia can be more expensive. In addition to the usual euthanasia fee, Stanek charges $30 to $60 more to travel up to 20 miles from her hospital.
WebMD Pet Health Feature Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S on September 29, 2011

Sources

SOURCES:

Sandy Volkman, Lakeville, Minn.

Rebecca McComas, DVM, owner, Minnesota Pets, Twin Cities, Minn.

David Kirkpatrick, spokesman, American Veterinary Medical Association.

Shannon Stanek, DVM, owner, Exton Vet Clinic and Stanek Veterinary Housecalls, Exton, Pa.

Duffy Jones, DVM, owner, Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital, Atlanta.

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