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When cats or dogs become part of our families, the last thing we're thinking about is how their time on earth will end. Sadly though, it's something all pet parents eventually face. If you're at that point, you may be considering pet euthanasia (putting your pet to sleep). It's an option that many people choose to prevent pets from suffering in their final days. Pet euthanasia can be performed in a veterinary clinic or at home.
"The best place for a euthanasia is going to be wherever you and your pet feel comfortable," says Dani McVety, DVM, CEO and founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, an organization that provides in-home euthanasia. "For most people and their pets that's going to be in the home, especially for cats who want as little interaction with strangers as possible. But with dogs, I've had people bring them in the car because they love going for rides or I've met them at the beach or the park."
If pet euthanasia at home is an option you'd like to explore, read on to learn more about the service and what you can expect.
Who Can Perform at-Home Animal Euthanasia?
Pet euthanasia services are regulated by state laws, which typically require a licensed veterinary or technician to do it wherever it occurs. Typically, at-home euthanasia is performed by veterinarians who specialize in end-of-life care (hospice).
How Is Pet Euthanasia Performed at Home?
At-home pet euthanasia services are designed to make the process as peaceful as possible for you and your pet. Unlike the veterinary setting, you decide what environment is best for your pet's passing—in his bed, on your lap, under a backyard tree, surrounded by favorite toys—and your furry pal never leaves your side during the procedure. You can play soothing music, control the lighting, and even feed him a last-hurrah treat, if your pet is up to it.
Typically, when the hospice veterinarian arrives you'll discuss your pet's condition and the vet may give your pet a brief physical exam. Then the vet will explain the euthanasia process to you. Two injections are given for this procedure. The first one sedates the pet so his body relaxes and he drifts to sleep over the course of three to five minutes. The second injection is the euthanasia solution that's an overdose of barbiturates, which shuts off the respiratory part of the brain and the heart stops beating.
Afterwards, the hospice vet may step out and give you a few moments of alone time with your pet. The vet may also offer to create a paw print or cut a lock of fur as a keepsake for you. Finally, the hospice vet will transport your pet's body to a crematory for cremation or to a funeral home for burial, depending on which service you choose.
How Much Does Home Pet Euthanasia Cost?
Having a veterinarian come to your home to perform pet euthanasia will be pricier than doing it in a veterinary setting. But people say the cost of at-home euthanasia is worth it for a calmer experience. Expect to pay between $200 to $300. Note that cremation costs and burial fees are separate.
When Should You Have Your Pet Euthanized at Home?
Perhaps the most difficult question to grapple with is when you should put your pet to sleep. Planning an at-home euthanasia works best when you can do it before it becomes an emergency.
If your pet has an illness that affects the brain, heart, or lungs, those are organs that'll suddenly stop functioning and create an urgent situation, McVety explains. It's important to understand that if you wait until the very last minute, you're probably going to have to make a trip to an emergency pet hospital rather than having an at-home euthanasia.
"You really have to weigh competing desires for wanting more time with your pet but also wanting them to have a peaceful passing," says McVety. "With that being said, if your pet rapidly goes downhill and you have to rush to the emergency room to stop their suffering, don't beat yourself up about it. The timing of natural death is unpredictable."
Your pet's health status, and your ability to keep him comfortable, is the best measuring stick for figuring out when to have euthanasia performed. Talk with your regular veterinarian about your pet's condition and outlook. Your vet can help you get a better feel for your cat or dog's timeline and if medications can ease their discomforts.
Once your pet is at the hospice stage, rarely do things get better though, says McVety. "You might have a better day, a better hour, or a slightly better couple of days. But altogether, your pet's health will continue to decline, which is the natural process of life. Oftentimes, once pet parents realize that, it's easier for them to make a decision."