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Our pets bring us unconditional love and support. Unfortunately, they do not live forever and one day we must make the difficult decision to ease their passing.
What is hospice or end of life care?
The term "hospice care" can invoke many feelings, particularly if you have had a family member or friend in human hospice care. For our animal family members, it means addressing their quality of life until it is time to say goodbye. This time can be a few hours or days in duration to months or even years. In some instances, a diagnosis with a poor long term prognosis does not mean the pet's quality of life is immediately unacceptable. For example, a cat with chronic kidney disease may be maintained comfortably for months or even years with proper care. We take a holistic approach to end of life care and try to meet the medical, physical, and emotional needs of both the pet and the owner. This can include:
- Pain: many geriatric patients of all species suffer from arthritis or pain from neurological disease or cancer. A decline in mobility can make the difference in whether the quality of life is acceptable or not. Fortunately, many approaches are available to use to help manage pain in our patients, including modalities like therapeutic laser therapy and medical massage therapy to keep an older pet feeling and moving their best
- Nutrition: Animals in pain or who feel sick often do not wish to eat and an pet's poor appetite is often cited by owners as part of the decision to euthanize. Using both commercially available diets or a home prepared diet, we can address the nutritional needs of the patient.
- Medical Management: Many medical conditions that require professional treatment can be addressed during a house call, such as administration of fluids, medication, or nutrition via a feeding tube.
- Psychological Management: We now know that animals can suffer from many of the same signs of aging as humans. Many elderly dogs show signs of canine cognitive dysfunction, which is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. Signs include acting lost or confused, personality changes, urinary or fecal incontinence or changes in housebreaking, sleep disturbances, or even fear aggression. While these signs cannot be reversed at this time, some supplements are suggested to be helpful in slowing its progression.
Crossing the Bridge
How do you know when it's time?
This is an intensely personal decision that will be different for everyone. No matter when that decision is, you know your pet better than anyone. There is no right or wrong answer. One method is to make a list of the top five things your pet really enjoys doing. For example, a dog might enjoy going for car rides, playing with the kids, chewing on her favorite toys, chasing her ball, and going to the park. If she can no longer do or no longer enjoys three or more of her favorite activities, it may time to start thinking about concerns about quality of life. Again, this is just an example and it will depend on both you and your animal.
What should I expect from an at home euthanasia?
Your pet can have a special meal or treats right beforehand, though it is advisable to keep them on their regular diet more than 12 hours in advance to avoid digestive upset. First, we will discuss with you the process. We can perform the procedure in your home, in your backyard, in your car, or even near a quiet park or woods.
Your pet will then receive an injection of sedative under the skin. We typically use a combination of anti-anxiety medication and pain medication along with the sedative itself so your pet is as comfortable and calm as possible. Owners with pets that have had a long, chronic terminal illness that their pet is looking as comfortable as they have seen them in months. Depending on the pet's medical condition, we may place an IV catheter once your pet is sleepy and relaxed. The IV catheter is typically placed in one of the back legs if possible so you can be comfortable near their head. Usually the catheter is placed with little difficulty, though occasionally due to illness, dehydration, and advanced age, we occasionally have to try a different vein. Once we start the IV, two injections are then used. An anesthetic just like what is given before surgeries is first given and the euthanasia solution that stops the heart is given after. The process is fast when using the IV solution and they will be completely unconscious when given the last injection, so your pet will not feel any pain. They may sigh, vocalize, contract their muscles slightly, or void their bladder or bowels, though often they pass quickly and peacefully.
For very ill or old cats, rabbits, and other small mammals, their veins may not accommodate an IV catheter. The euthanasia solution is injected painlessly into the abdomen under sedation and they will fall asleep in your arms and pass on after 5-10 minutes.
During the process, you may take as much time before and after the procedure is performed to be with your beloved pet.
Who should be present during the procedure?
This is completely up to you. If you and your family wish to be with your pet during their final moments, that is fine. If you do not and wish to step out of the room before the last injection is given, that is perfectly fine too. Whether your children can observe is also up to you. Dr. Jones has worked with children from infants to 10+ years for nearly a decade. Our experience is that simple honesty in the proceedings is best, whether you chose for them to watch or not. We generally recommend that other pets not be immediately present during the procedure, but some animals seem to accept the process if they can see their companion afterwards.
How much does it cost to perform an at home euthanasia?
The price of an at home euthanasia is variable depending on the size of your pet, your wishes for cremation if desired, and your location. Please call us at 573-639-9503 for rates. The price of the euthanasia includes the fee for the house call, consultation, assessment, sedation, placement of an IV catheter if necessary, and the euthanasia itself. You will also receive a clay paw imprint as a special keepsake.
Do you perform emergency at home euthanasias?
Yes, though if your pet's health is in decline and you feel euthanasia may be imminent, please contact us as soon as possible so we can counsel you and plan ahead for what your wishes are. This is much less stressful for both you and your pet. If your pet requires an emergency at home euthanasia performed because of sudden catastrophic injury or illness and transport to a veterinary emergency hospital is not feasible, the fee is an additional $100* in addition to the standard rate after 7 PM or on weekends and will be performed as our schedule allows. For safety reasons, we cannot perform euthanasias of non-regular clients after 10 PM on a house call.
How do I handle aftercare of my pet's body?
This depends on your wishes. Some cities such as Columbia permit burial of a pet in the backyard as long as it is dug deeply enough. Others do not. We can assist you with burial for an additional fee depending on the size of the pet.
We use Angel Paws Crematory, but there are others available in the Columbia area. We can arrange transport and bring your pet's ashes back to you personally.
Some owners also opt for a post mortem examination (necropsy) to determine the cause of disease or death. The University of Missouri Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory can perform this service and group cremation is complimentary. Individual cremation is also available with this service. We can typically arrange transport of the body to the diagnostic laboratory for an additional fee.
What are some resources for handling the grieving process?
I recommend the book Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz (Random House, 2011). A beautiful video preview can be found HERE