Improving Euthanasia Services for Grieving Owners
Sat, April 17, 2021

Improving Euthanasia Services for Grieving Owners


Veterinarians need to rethink the meaningful and spiritual honor to oversee and perform compassionate euthanasia services for their client’s pets, suggested Alice Villalobos, DVM, FNAP, of Veterinary Practice News, a news website for veterinarians. In Villalobos’s opinion, practitioners need to stop using negative self-talk words and phrases like playing God, put to sleep, and more. Using these words and phrases lead to ethics fatigue and compassion fatigue. Villalobos recommended using positive words and phrases like transition, give back, peaceful and painless passing, and more.

Euthanasia In Veterinary Medicine: Key Findings (2019)

Rute Santos and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate wrote that 206 participants answered the questionnaire, consisting mainly of females (83.4%). 81.5% of respondents answered “strongly disagree” with euthanasia by convenience, per the tutor’s request. Convenience euthanasia involves euthanizing a physical and psychologically health animal that is requested by the tutor who is not eager to explore other options.

Likewise, 72.5% answered “strongly disagree” with euthanasia by non-medical reasons like urinating or defecating in inappropriate places or tutors’ health problems that jeopardize the animal’s quality of life. 34.6% of respondents said they “strongly disagree” about justifying euthanasia due to the inability to afford proper medical treatment while 32.7% said they “neither agree nor disagree” (NAND). 25.4% said “strongly agree” and 7.3% answered DK/PNTA (“did not know or preferred not to answer”).

According to the respondents, they justified euthanizing an animal for serious and long-lasting behavioral problems like aggressive behavior, with 38.5% answering NAND, 27.3% “strongly agree,” 25.9% “strongly disagree,” and 8.3% DK/PNTA. 93.2% of respondents said “strongly agree” with regard to euthanizing animals with serious conditions that can no longer managed medically and cause suffering.

62.9% said they “strongly agree” with euthanizing an animal in cases of a zoonotic disease that cannot be treated for financial reasons. 39.5% said they “strongly agree” with euthanizing an animal that carries an infectious disease, potentially transmitting it to cohabitant animals. Meanwhile, 38.7% of respondents answered NAND while 20.5% “strongly disagree” and 8.3% DK/PNTA. Euthanasia was seen as never justifiable regardless of the reason, according to 60.5% of respondents who strongly disagreed, 22% NAND, and 10.7% DK/PNTA.

When asked to share their opinion on population control measures that include sacrificing different answers, the respondents answered “strongly agree” with sacrificing stray dogs (19%), stray cats (18.5%), boars (31.7%), and pigeons (37.1%) to control the population. Meanwhile, some respondents answered “strongly disagree” with sacrificing stray dogs (57.6%), stray cats (58%), boars (36.1%), and pigeons (37.1%).

A smaller proportion of respondents answered NAND or DK/PNTA with sacrificing stray dogs (17.6% NAND and 5.9% DK/PNTA), stray cats (18% and 5.4%), boars (22.4% and 9.8%), and pigeons (18.5% and 7.3%).



Experiences of Veterinarians’ and Owners During Euthanasia

South Africa’s Hillcrest Veterinary Hospital shared a post written by a veterinarian on its Facebook page, explaining why people should never leave pets who are about to pass away, reported Sabrina Barr of The Independent, a British online publisher of news. 

The viral post read, “When you are a pet owner it is inevitable, the majority of the time, that your pet will die before you do.”  The writer said that if an owner takes their pet to the office for euthanasia, they need to remember that they were the center of their pet’s universe for its entire life. Westford veterinarian Shelley Fitzgerald performed hundreds of euthanasia and witnessed more of this procedure, cited Carey Goldberg of WBUR, Boston’s news station. When she first started, Fitzgerald wished she was not the one who would put down one of her favorite patients.

However, as she gained more confidence and a better understanding of the procedure, Fitzgerald wanted to be there for the pet and family as she was their doctor. In Fitzgerald’s opinion, death was part of her role in that particular animal’s life. Recalling situations where death is inevitable, she said she has been able to alleviate suffering and provide comfort to grieving owners, per the standards of her profession.

Jessi Dietrich from Tennessee asked her vet about the hardest part about his job. Posting the interaction on Twitter, Dietrich’s vet said it was when he has to let an animal pass away. She wrote that 90% of owners do not want to be in the room when her vet injects them. Hence, the pet’s last moments often involve looking around for their owners before being put down, which was heartbreaking for Dietrich.



Improving Euthanasia Practice

Veterinarians should greet the pet with a positive statement, rather than tell how awful their client’s pet looks, advised Mary Gardner, DVM, and Dani McVety, DVM of Today’s Veterinary Practice, a peer-reviewed clinical information on veterinary medicine. Moreover, it is also recommended to say “This is a very peaceful process” or “He will be feeling much better than he’s felt in a while” rather than saying “It doesn’t hurt” or “He won’t be in pain.”

Practitioners should also know when to respect silence and let the owners grieve, as this is an important part of the grieving process. Veterinarians can also offer memorial items like a paw print. As soon as the client hears the passing of their pet, spend a few minutes making the paw print memento.

Clients should be informed that the vet is making a paw print impression, helping the owners focus on the creation of the item. A lovely bag can also be used to store a pet’s leash and collar. How the vet team handles the body reflects their respect for life. Head vet at Sean McCormack emphasized that people should not be judged if they choose not to stay in the room. He added, “People shouldn’t be labelled cowards for walking away from that scenario as we don’t know what they are dealing with personally at the time.”

A dialogue between the pet owner and veterinary clinic should take place to inform the owner about what is going to happen during the procedure, said McCormach. That way, vets can talk with their vet team to ensure that euthanasia is as peaceful and stress-free as possible. Everyone on the team should handle the body as if it was their own pet. Many veterinary distributors have colored body bags to respect the body. It also shows respect for euthanasia in general.   

Some veterinarians think that euthanasia should be reframed in a more positive light. For them, performing it does not mean they are playing God. Euthanasia services can be improved by providing a memento of the pet and inform owners about what is going to happen during the procedure.