During the COVID-19 pandemic there have been many changes to how veterinary practices operate across the country. Chiefly, the decision, in certain practices, to not allow owners to attend their animal’s consultation has caused much anxiety for both owners and professionals.
Allowing the owner into the practice is still very much on a practice-by-practice basis and each has their own set of protocols. It is worth noting that there is no right or wrong way and some practices may have staff that are more vulnerable than others that will influence their decision. In today’s news item, we look at an issue that has been reported to the VCMS that has caused a great deal of pain to many owners: how can I find closure following the euthanasia of my pet?
In such circumstances, it is important to be aware that one person is likely allowed in; remaining two-metres away, wearing a mask and will not be able to hold or cuddle the pet. Before arriving at the practice, the procedure will likely be discussed beforehand but it is worth checking with the team, for example, understanding the time allowed to be on your own with your pet before and/or after the procedure. Communication is key at all times, remember to clarify understanding, as often the owner will be in a heightened state of awareness or very emotional, making sure that all information is clear and understood, can make a make a difference.
It goes without saying that losing a pet is a painful experience. Only pet owners will truly understand how they become an integral and irreplaceable part of the family throughout their lifetimes, with personalities that are unique, loveable and utterly unforgettable. While people may feel unconditional love for their beloved companions, it seems that many find it too difficult to say goodbye at the very end.
With the COVID crises limiting contact between owners and the practice, a pet being euthanised in these times can be even more painful than usual. Indeed, on average around 90% of owners chose to not be present during their pets’ final moments which, understandably, is at the discretion of each owner. However, during this new way of working it is more important than ever that vets manage their clients’ expectations particularly in regard to the difficult decision of euthanasia.
We can’t emphasise enough, that at the heart of the matter is the question of dialogue between practice and owner about what’s going to take place so as to make it a slightly easier, albeit inevitably difficult, experience.
Allowing, where possible and if it does not negatively affect the wellbeing of the pet, the owner to share time before the procedure with their pet can be of great comfort. Likewise, as a pet owner it is important to remember that, whilst you may not be present, vets and nurses choose their profession because they want to help animals. You can rely on them to treat your animal sympathetically even in your absence.
Keeping the client updated as to the possible outcomes and decisions that will be taken by the practice can help them to manage their emotions and feelings, as they begin to deal with the idea of pet loss and grief.
The vet should always update and consult with the owner as to the available outcomes and never euthanise an animal without informing the owner beforehand. Most importantly the client should be encouraged to discuss their expectations with the practice beforehand so that they can be managed appropriately by the team.
It can be extremely difficult to hand your pet over and just never see them again if you are someone who would want to be there so trying to figure out how personally you can find closure in that is very important.
If it will be the case that the owner can’t be with their pet, then beforehand if possible (not in emergency), as a professional, think about what will help them to find closure, do they want to keep the collar? Would they like to have some of their pet’s fur or a paw print? Do they want ashes back? Such decisions can help manage expectations and are worth discussing prior to taking the animal either in person or on the phone. Especially regarding ashes or after death body care, ask the practice to be able to go home and consider your options, as an owner it can be a good idea, it will allow you to have time to process the loss and see how you feel after, before you make that important final decision.
Offering support and guidance to the owner in acknowledging and dealing with pet loss through charities such as the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service, can serve to help them address the difficult feelings and serve as a way to work through such issues. This can be pre-euthanasia and after the loss.
As a practice you may wish to allocate a member of staff who, following on from the procedure, can spend a short amount of time with the owner to discuss how they are feeling and seek to console them in such a difficult time.
Given the unusual situation currently and the difficulties surrounding being allowed in to practices, there has been an increase in clients opting for home euthanasia visits. Home visits from your own vet are highly unlikely to be possible at moment due to COVID regulations, except in extreme circumstances. However, there are a number of private veterinary companies who specialise in offering a euthanasia service at home. It may be worth speaking to your vet to see if they can recommend such a company or thoroughly researching and exploring your options online.
For more information on pet loss, the Blue Cross have a large selection of resources and dedicated staff who may be able to assist. For more information, visit www.bluecross.org.uk, call 0800 096 6606 or email email@example.com.
It’s good to note as well, that the support service is there not just for owners, but also vet teams affected by loss, and is free for all.