When The Time Comes: Why Some Vets are Offering At-Home Pet Euthanasia Services

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After several years in general practice, Dr. Mary Craig, DVM, found herself drawn to an area of veterinary work that requires an especially sensitive touch: at-home pet hospice care and euthanasia.

While most vets usually focus on cures, Dr. Craig saw a need for end-of-life care, when a pet can’t recover but still needs help in the comfort of their home — and the family needs some support too.

In 2011, she founded Gentle Goodbye Veterinary Hospice & At-Home Euthanasia. Through her Connecticut-based practice, Dr. Craig pays house calls to evaluate each pet as well as helps owners recognize the signs of discomfort or distress. If a pet needs to be put down, she works with the family to plan a familiar, loving environment for the procedure.

It’s an issue that many pet owners struggle to face. However, Dr. Craig explains, treating a pet at home can be the most compassionate choice. “Euthanizing a pet is one of the hardest decisions we make, but I also feel it is the kindest gift we can give them,” she says. “In fact, as their caretakers, their well-being is our moral obligation. I’ve come to feel that at-home euthanasia is a better option for nearly every pet and their people.”

Vetstreet talked to Dr. Craig about how her practice helps pets, vets and, most important, families.

Q. What inspired you to found Gentle Goodbye?

A. Dr. Mary Craig: "When I was in general practice, I always felt [putting a pet down in a veterinary office] was a difficult way to lose a pet. The last activity a pet lover did with their pet was a stressful, anxious drive to the vet. Saying goodbye at home, in a familiar place, at the right time, with the right people around, allows everybody to be less traumatized. My hope is that a gentle goodbye allows people to heal faster and get another pet sooner!"

Q. Did you have any personal experiences that prompted you to devote your practice to end-of-life care?

A. "A number of realizations helped me to this calling. I had many pets in my life that died — some in the vet’s office, some naturally. I know I waited too long in some cases because I dreaded that trip, and my pets suffered for it. I recognized a need for veterinary care in that end-of-life stage. Providing nonjudgmental care, and reinforcing education around signs of pain, can make a huge difference in quality of life for the pet and the relationship between pet and person."

Q. What's involved in pet hospice care?

A. "Veterinary hospice care, like human hospice, is as much about those left behind as it is for the patient. [For the pet, it includes] pain management, sometime appetite and hydration support, and environmental changes to help mobility and hygiene.

Hospice also [involves] conversations with the family about what the pet is going through, what the signs of pain look like and what I believe it feels like for pets to experience dehydration, nausea, immobility and chronic or acute pain. [We also discuss] the emotional impact on pets when they can’t participate in family activities or exercise longstanding housetraining habits. All of this can help people get to a point where they are OK with the decision to let go."

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