End-of-life and euthanasia

Click to access the 2016 AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life Care Guidelines and other end-of-life resources from AAHA. 

Making the decision

During the euthanasia decision-making process and after the decision is made, provide the client with resources about the process and impact of euthanasia on the family and other pets. Such resources include web sites, hotlines, books, brochures, and professional counselors for both adults and children.71-74 Web site examples include:

 Examples of pet loss support hotlines include:

  • Washington State University (509- 335-5704)
  • University of California-Davis (530-752- 3602 or 800-565-1526)
  • Tufts University (508-839-5302),
  • Chicago Veterinary Medical Association (630-325- 1600)
  • Cornell University (607-253-3932)
  • The Delta Society (619-320-3298).

Consider and discuss with the client the “five freedoms” to aid in assessing the animal’s welfare and in making an ethical decision.75 The five freedoms include freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom from fear and distress; and the freedom to express normal behavior.75 Assess the severity and duration of the animal’s condition with these freedoms in mind and use them to help clients identify their own criteria for treatment or euthanasia. Such criteria might include financial, moral, religious, cultural, physical, and mental/emotional factors.

Avoid imposing one’s own values and emotions on clients. Let clients make informed choices based on all known options. Support clients in their informed choice for euthanasia or for further diagnostic, therapeutic, or palliative care. Be an advocate of the pet and try to factually present options and consequences without promoting inappropriate feelings of regret, self-blame, or guilt.

When the decision is made

Discuss with the client the following points:

  • The euthanasia process and choices, including: the option for sedation, intravenous catheter placement, home euthanasia or at the hospital, indoor or outdoor location for the euthanasia, the client’s option to be present during and after the euthanasia
  • Effects on other family pets and children
  • Choices for disposal of the body, including the option of burial, cremation, and return of the remains

Describe specifically what will happen, what the animal may experience, and what the client may see or hear. Create an appropriate area in the hospital for euthanasia; a place the client can give the pet a final farewell. Consider providing the client with a remembrance item such as a paw print casting or lock of hair, followed by a sympathy card.

Veterinary team tips

Provide staff training and debriefing on the difficult issues that inevitably arise from being frequently exposed to endof- life events. Such issues include grief management, pet loss support, periodic hospital memorial services, bereavement outlets, and compassion fatigue. Give the staff permission to grieve and express their emotions. Recognize each individual’s limitations. Refer clients to outside resources when available.