When a pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or when age begins to affect its body and mind, owners have a difficult decision to make. Sick animals need a lot of care if they are not to suffer before they die naturally or are put to sleep. But many owners do not feel qualified to care for their pet in its last few weeks and don't know what to do for the best.
Vet Susan Gregersen specialises in helping owners say a peaceful goodbye to pets in the comfort of their own home. She says that one major “happy factor” for animal is to stay pain- and stress-free for as long as possible.
“Although we often hear pet owners express the secret wish that their pet will go in his or her sleep, this almost never happens, or usually not without some suffering first - something we allow to happen to humans but which we can spare our animals,” says Susan.
Vets2Home was started in Sussex in 2005 as a mobile veterinary service. After more than 6,000 home visits Susan and her vet nurse Alex Gravett decided to dedicate their practice to end-of-life home hospice care and gentle euthanasia – a two-step process that begins with administering a powerful sedative.
“We decided to specialise because we had learned from seven years of home visits that the care and attention needed at the end of a pet’s life is best given at home by a personal vet who’s on hand 24/7,” she explains.
When is too soon?
Susan says she has had too many requests to put down a pet that clearly still enjoys life and is not yet suffering, but the owner simply can't bear the unknown or is unsure of what is to come.
“Fear is the number one reason people choose euthanasia too early,” she says. “If owners make this choice because they don't know what to expect or how to deal with the situation, they may miss out on the intimate and often emotionally healing process of final-stage care for their pets. Gentle home euthanasia is available at any stage, as long as we can help the owner feel prepared and ready for it.”
Many animal lovers have very different definitions of what makes a “happy" pet and what a good life for a pet should or shouldn’t include at the end.
“Having visited and helped thousands of pets at home, I strongly believe the right time is when both your pet and you lose the joy in your life together,” says Susan.
“The reasons are many - from not eating, or eating excessively but with unhealthy weight loss, to vocalising, pain, hiding, not interacting, soiling inappropriately, and sleeping a lot or not at all. These could be signs of illnesss or versions of what I call “petzheimers”, which makes your pet a completely different ‘person’.”
Making the decision
There are some golden rules that owners should bear in mind when facing the toughest decision of all.
“It is vital to remember why we have these loyal, loving creatures in our lives,” advises Susan. “They give us such joy, loyalty, companionship and much more. That is why I believe the one last gesture of love we should show our pets is a calm, respectful end: without stress, pain or suffering, when it is needed and not before. That goodbye should ideally be at home, surrounded by loved ones, familiar smells and sounds - and in their favourite spot.”
Sourcing a similar service
Vets2Home offers 24/7 in-home euthanasia and phone advice plus out-of-hours emergency care and a home hospice service in Sussex and on the Surrey and Kent borders - www.peacefulpetgoodbyes.uk, 07962 423567.
Dignified Departures (dignified-departures.co.uk) will help you find your nearest in-home, end-of-life vet, no matter where you are in the UK.
Home Visit Vet (www.homevisitvet.co.uk) covers London and specialises in senior, geriatric, end-of-life care and in-home compassionate euthanasia.
The Blue Cross (www.bluecross.org.uk) has useful pages on euthanasia for dogs, cats and horses and also offers a Pet Bereavement Service, as does Animal Samaritans (www.animalsamaritans.org.uk, 020 8303 1859).