Letting Go: At-Home Euthanasia

If only your loving companion could look you in the eye and tell you when he’s ready to go. Unfortunately, the signs that your dog may be nearing the end are often more subtle. And it can be difficult to know when euthanasia is the most humane, dignified option for your pet.

“It’s normal to feel emotional and to have mixed feelings about your decision,” says Rebecca McComas, DVM, founder and owner of MN Pets. “It’s a good time to reach out for support from friends and family who can provide a patient, listening ear.”

If you and your vet do come to the decision that it’s time to say goodbye, you may consider putting your pet to sleep in the comfort and serenity of your own home. Here, McComas talks us through at-home euthanasia and what pet lovers can expect.

What is at-home euthanasia?
When a pet is facing a terminal illness and is suffering or in pain, the owner may decide that euthanasia is the best choice to end their pet’s suffering. When they are ready, one of our veterinarians will visit them at home to allow the pet to pass in a place that is comfortable and familiar and one that is free from fear and anxiety.

How does it work? 
Our veterinarians are experienced with assisting pet lovers through one of the most difficult days of their lives. First, our counselors speak with a client to confirm what the pet is experiencing. We’re able to advise whether or not euthanasia is the best option in their unique circumstances.

When our doctor arrives at the home, she spends some time getting to know the client and their pet and hearing more about the pet to confirm the decision is the right one. We administer medication to help relieve pain and help the pet feel sleepy and relaxed. After 10 to 15 minutes, we give the final medication to help the pet pass away, relaxed and comfortable, in their sleep. I really can’t think of a more gentle way we could assist when a pet needs to be released from pain and suffering.

What happens after the procedure is complete?
We can handle body care arrangements, depending on the client’s wishes, and will make a free memorial paw print impression in clay if desired. All in all, our visits are relaxed. They last up to about an hour, as opposed to a shorter visit at a typical veterinary clinic.

Why choose at-home euthanasia?
We believe it is the most peaceful, private, and dignified way to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Veterinary clinics have wonderful staff who also take gentle care, but often there is a stainless-steel table and all the accompanying sights, sounds, and smells of a clinic. Pets often are frightened and may spend time trembling and shaking, which can be distressing for the owner when it is the last moments of the pet’s life.

Who is a good candidate for this service? 
Pets who fear the car ride or veterinary clinic are excellent candidates. Pets who have difficulty with their mobility may not be able to safely or comfortably get in and out of a vehicle. Pet lovers who want privacy in their grief and would rather not walk in and out of the busy waiting area appreciate being able to stay at home. People also often tell me how difficult the car drive was, knowing what was in store. Owners who are nervous about watching some part of the procedure can stay with the pet or step into the other room if they wish, all while keeping the pet home and comfortable.

There are situations where being at home isn’t practical or possible but the owner still wishes for the euthanasia to take place in a non-clinical setting. In those cases, we partner with Pets Remembered Cremation to provide the euthanasia service in their Comfort Center. This is a comfortable, private setting where the owner can say goodbye in peace and privacy.

What are some of the emotional benefits to at-home euthanasia?
There is a great deal of peace in remembering the image of your sleeping, relaxed pet who is finally pain-free. The image of a pet at home in their own bed as they pass quietly away is one that people can remember and relive without the memory of fear, trauma, or anxiety.

I believe that a big part of our work is helping to heal some of the painful memories of the past, when a pet’s passing may not have been as peaceful and gentle as their human wishes it would have been, either due to a difficult natural death or a clinical experience that didn’t feel as personal and comforting as they would have wished.

How can pet lovers prepare themselves to let their loved one go? What kind of aftercare do you recommend?
Our counselors often advise people about the realities of anticipatory grief, which is very common and very normal, as a death becomes imminent. We publish a blog and include this topic often in our newsletters. We also offer a professionally facilitated grief support group, which meets every month. Something new we will soon bring to our practice is our expressive arts therapy group for people who wish to use their creative selves to honor and remember a pet and to process the grief that accompanies a loss.

You have a long-established partnership with Pets Remembered Cremation. What can pet lovers expect if they choose cremation after euthanasia?
We’ve worked together for several years to offer at-home euthanasia and individual cremation with next day return of a pet’s ashes to their home. Pets Remembered is committed to treating the owner with compassion and the pet’s body with dignity. We make all the arrangements on behalf of the pet lover.

Sarah Asp Olson

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