In-home euthanasia on the upswing

Euthanizing a pet is never easy, but a recent upswing in in-home euthanasia is making the process less painful for veterinarians and pet owners.

Dr. Kathleen Cooney, DVM, is owner of a mobile pet hospice and euthanasia service based in northern Colorado. She moderates a directory called In Home Pet Euthanasia, which lists accredited veterinarians who offer in-home euthanasia services throughout the United States.

"There is really a growing trend of pet hospice care," Cooney said. "A lot of people are talking about it – as they should be. Pets are becoming more and more ingrained in our lives, and families want to see compassionate treatment that makes end-of-life care as comfortable as possible for their pets."

Cooney started her own practice in 2006, and marketed it well in northern Colorado. Soon, she found other people from across the country contacting her about her services. In 2009, she launched the In Home Pet Euthanasia online directory in order to make it easier for families to find veterinarians offering at-home euthanasia services in their state.

In two years, Cooney has accumulated approximately 90 members and continues to grow by four or five members a month – and those members are staying.

"We are keeping the majority of our members," Cooney said. "You really get the ‘helper’s high’ when you are doing this type of work. You can really see the difference between in-home euthanasia and an office visit. The office still isn’t home – you can always hear commotion in the background and dogs barking. For the veterinarian, it’s really the connection with the family that is rewarding. It’s the perfect send-off for a well-loved family member."


Benefits for both pet owner and veterinarian

Historically, most veterinary care was mobile and took place in the patient’s home, Cooney said. When veterinary care started moving out of the home and into clinics, euthanasia went along with it.

"People are realizing how wonderful euthanasia can be in the home," Cooney said. "We need to pull euthanasia back into the home where it can be a private experience."

Dr. Kim Basher, DVM, has practiced as a house call veterinarian for 13 years, 11 of those years in San Diego, and the past two in Boulder, Colo. On average, she will do anywhere from 1 to 10 euthanasias per week. She said she has also seen a recent upswing in in-home euthanasia, and in house calls in general.

"I think the reason is because people are learning about it from their friends or coworkers, just in normal discussions with people," Basher said. "When their animal is very ill, they are thinking and talking about their circumstances and home euthanasia is often mentioned from one friend to another as an option. Once this option is really thought about, there really isn’t any ‘kinder’ way than at home, in the animal’s yard, in their bed, or in their owner’s bed."

Basher said that cats in particular are an important part of her business.

"Cats are a huge part of my business, and with regard to euthanasia, I think they are the species that benefits the most," Basher said. "Cats aren’t in love with traveling, the car, or any of the veterinary hospital scene. Anything at home suits a cat much better."

Saying goodbye

From outdoor euthanasia on beaches, fields and under trees to indoor euthanasia under beds with the whole family standing nearby, Basher said the process is always meaningful.

With one family, Basher an owner cuddled her dog on the floor with her with two laptops on the floor in front of them. On one of the laptops was her daughter Skyping from California; on the other, the son Skyping from Japan.
In another instance, Basher watched as two owners cuddled their little old, blind, deaf dog between them on their king size bed, completely at peace.

In yet another call, Basher recalls carrying a dog out of the house on a stretcher and laying him down in the yard. She watched as the other family dog lay down next to him and rested his head on top of the body. Basher left them alone for several hours.

"Euthanasia, and the emotions that come with it, can be very private when done at home," Basher said. "I think the no travel, no smells of an animal hospital, no IV placement and the quietness is what people appreciate and want for the last moment with their pets. Allowing your ‘best friend’ or ‘child’ to drift off to sleep at home with no stress and no pain is so very humane."


High cost, high reward

The cost of in-home euthanasia can be high for both patients and practitioners. On average, an in-home euthanasia will cost at least double, or sometimes triple the cost of an office euthanasia procedure. The added cost is a combination of travel time and the fact that an in-home visit can take much longer than a regular office visit.

On average, Cooney said an in-home euthanasia will cost $175 to $400, not including aftercare such as cremation. Despite this, Cooney said she wants to see in-home euthanasia become the rule, not the exception.

"You can financially survive and still make a living, which is why it’s growing," Cooney said. "A lot of veterinarians are looking for something more meaningful, and this offers a lot of freedom."

Cooney said the amount of business she receives for her mobile euthanasia services is enough that all practices should offer the same option.

"I would love to see euthanasia be pulled out of clinics as soon as possible, hopefully within 10 years," Cooney said. "The growing trend just goes to show the power of the in-home euthanasia. I hope to see clinics themselves making it a part of their normal practice. There are more than enough pets that die every day to supply 10 services like mine. We are just scratching the service."