A study published by the British Veterinary Association found that many veterinarians feel more distress from euthanasia consultations with the pet owner than the process itself. When clients have a difference in opinion regarding euthanasia, the inability to do what’s best for the pet causes significant stress for veterinarians and veterinary team members.
In this article, we’ll provide information to help you determine what to say to someone who has to euthanize their pets, including how to answer their questions and support them through the heartbreaking loss. Our goal is to help you improve your clinic’s communication to lessen the emotional strain for the owners, pets, and your veterinary team.
Helping Pet Owners Understand Euthanasia
Understanding pet euthanasia, including why it’s necessary and how the procedure works, can help pet owners make the right decision and ease their worries and grief about the process. By thoroughly explaining how the procedure works and what to expect, you can clear up misconceptions and help the owner make an informed choice about their beloved companion.
Signs That Indicate It Might Be Time for Euthanasia
When someone has a companion animal for a significant portion of their lives, it can be extremely difficult to accept that their pet might need euthanasia. As a vet, part of your responsibilities is informing the client when euthanasia is the animal’s best option and supporting them through the grieving process.
It might be time for euthanasia if the pet has these indicators:
- Poor quality of life
- Disinterest in playing or other usual activities
- Appearance of frequent pain
- Terminal illness
- Critical injuries
Sometimes, a healthy pet comes into a Humane Society animal shelter for euthanasia if it has become too dangerous or the owner cannot take care of the animal any longer. There’s often other options for these pets, including rehoming or foster care.
Common Misconceptions About Euthanasia
Some owners might believe that euthanasia will cause their beloved pet pain, and feelings of grief and guilt can stop them from making the right decision for their pet. You should clear up misconceptions about euthanasia to avoid adding to the client’s grief during such a difficult time.
If the owner asks whether euthanasia causes pain, help them understand that humane euthanasia allows their pet to pass without suffering. The pet’s quality of life is at the point where death is the ethical choice under the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines, and you should remind the owner that they’re doing the right thing.
Details About the Procedure
Pet owners who have never put past pets to sleep should understand the procedure beforehand. You can explain that euthanasia involves inducing anesthesia through an IV injection.
If their pet requires sedation to keep them calm and reduce stress, inform the client that euthanasia will begin once the animal has relaxed. Let the client know that once the euthanasia solution enters the pet’s body through an IV injection or inhalation, the animal will become unconscious and then peacefully pass away, as if they are falling asleep.
Helping Pet Owners Make the Decision
One of the most difficult parts of a vet’s job is telling an owner that euthanasia is the best option for their pet, but this stage is where you can make the most difference in your client’s grief process. By relying on sympathetic communication strategies, you can gently guide owners through their loss and give their pet the most comfortable end-of-life experience possible.
Tips for Communicating with Pet Owners About Euthanasia
This difficult decision is never easy for a pet parent, and how you communicate with the client can affect their experience significantly. From making the euthanasia service appointment with the front desk to discussing the decision with the veterinarian, every team member should give their undivided attention and compassion to the owner and patient.
Be sure to use the pet’s name often and ask open-ended questions to encourage the client to share information about how they’re handling the heart-wrenching circumstances. The more you know about the clients, the easier it is for you to provide support while they say goodbye to their pet.
Addressing the Emotional Nature of Euthanasia
Euthanasia is distressing for the owner and veterinary team involved, so don’t be afraid to express your own feelings and compassion for the situation. Knowing that you care—that your entire team cares—means a lot to someone losing their pet and long-time best friend.
Good communication skills go a long way during the process, helping you make an emotional connection to the owner so you can provide comfort and support during their loss. Use body language to convey emotion and show that your attention is solely on the situation:
- Maintain eye contact
- Sit down with the client
- Face your body toward the client
- Avoid distractions
Pet loss involves disenfranchised grief, a type of grief that isn’t wholly accepted by society and can make the owner feel uncomfortable expressing their feelings. It’s not uncommon for people who don’t understand the grief to suggest just getting a new pet to deal with the loss.
To some, a pet’s death can be as devastating as losing a family member, so it’s crucial to treat your clients with utmost respect and empathy.
Weighing the Pets’ Quality of Life
Deciding to put down a pet can be one of the most gut-wrenching decisions a pet parent makes in their life, but vets don’t suggest euthanasia lightly. Typically, euthanasia is the best option when a pet’s life has become drastically worse. Humane reasons to end a pet’s life include significant and unrelieved pain or distress due to tumor growth or infectious disease.
As a vet, you help owners assess their pet’s quality of life and determine whether their bad days outweigh their good days. You should remind owners that, when an animal is in constant pain and unable to enjoy life, euthanasia is a way to give their pet peace.
Information About End-of-life Care Options for Pets
You should provide clients with information on end-of-life care options for their pet when it becomes clear that they’re approaching the end. When it’s not yet time for euthanasia, palliative care from a hospice veterinary medicine practice can help prolong a pet’s comfort for as long as possible.
After euthanasia, you should give your clients information for grief counseling and other resources that help owners handle pet loss. The American Veterinary Medical Association provides pet loss support hotlines on its website to offer support after the loss of a pet.
Common Questions Pet Owners Ask About Euthanasia
The following are common questions from clients about euthanasia:
“Can a pet wake up after euthanasia?”
Pets cannot wake up after euthanasia, but owners might be confused when they see their pet’s legs move or appear to take a breath after the drug is in their system. When these movements, you should inform the client that they are reflexes and the animal isn’t in pain.
“What happens to the bodies of euthanized animals?”
Inform the client that they can decide what to do with their pet’s body after the euthanasia procedure. They can bury their pet at home or choose cremation, and cremation gives two options: individual or communal. With individual cremation, the owner can receive the pet’s ashes, while remains from communal cremation go to a pet cemetery.
“Can a vet euthanize without consent?”
Generally, no, a vet can’t euthanize a pet without consent. However, in some jurisdictions, laws exist that allow certain parties to euthanize an animal depending on the circumstances. Examples of these situations include:
- A dog that’s dangerous to the public
- An animal that’s suffering and the owner isn’t available
“How long does euthanasia take?”
Vets typically inject the euthanasia solution through an IV catheter, allowing the solution to enter the veins directly and rapidly stop the heart. With intravenous administration, the process generally takes 30 seconds. The euthanasia appointment could take 30 minutes or longer, depending on factors like placing an IV catheter and administering a sedative before euthanasia.
“How do I prepare to put down my pet?”
Talking about preparing to put a pet down is difficult, but you can help ensure the client’s pet is as comfortable as possible prior to their death.
Depending on the pet’s condition, you might suggest the owner bring the animal’s favorite treat or toy to help their pet feel more comfortable. If the owner has a surviving pet, they could bring them in so they can be with the family during their loss and provide some comfort to their friend.
Prioritize Communication at Your Vet Clinic
Hopefully, our guide to supporting owners through their grief, including examples of what to say to someone who has to euthanize their pets, has given you some ideas of how you can improve communication at your vet clinic. To learn how to better manage these difficult discussions with empathy and grace, watch our webinar, “Final Arrangements: How to Handle Euthanasia Calls with Empathy and Grace“.
For more information on improving communication at your vet clinic, discover how Weave ties your organization together with easy-to-use business software. We provide seamless tools for team chat, client messaging, phones, and more. Sign up to try our demo today.
Discussing euthansia can be tough for all parties. Learn how to navigate client conversations
Find out how to avoid handling these instances like other routine calls, and how to better manage these difficult discussions in a caring, empathetic way.View Webinar