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Saying goodbye during COVID-19: How AAHA-accredited practices are handling pet euthanasia

2020-3-19 iStock-1130185911 Cara Hopkins euthenasia story - blog2.jpg

Pet euthanasia is always hard, but COVID-19 has made it even harder. As veterinary hospitals are transitioning to telemedicine and curbside services, many are questioning how to uphold everyone’s safety while still providing clients and pets the chance to say goodbye.

Curbside methods generally mean that hospital staff meet clients at their vehicles to bring pets inside for exams, diagnostics, and treatments. Clients wait in their vehicles or are called back to pick up their pets, who are once again returned by staff so the client never steps inside the building.

But euthanasia is a once-in-a-lifetime event and many families will struggle with saying goodbye from their car, rather than being able to stay with their beloved pets until the end.

On the AAHA-Accredited Members Facebook Page, practices have been sharing views on how to balance precautionary measures with compassion for families and their pets.

The majority of practices say they make exceptions for euthanasia. They allow family members in, then disinfect thoroughly after each visit. Staff might also wear gloves and masks if they feel it’s necessary. But what if the client is sick? One practice had a sick client observe through the window.

Some hospitals are playing it safe and not allowing any clients inside under any circumstances, including euthanasia, which can mean the client says goodbye at their vehicle, but not necessarily.

Kara Nelsen, DVM, MPH an ER clinician and medical director of Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Blaine, Minnesota, suggests delivering a sedative in the vehicle to allow owners to say goodbye, then taking the pet inside to deliver the final injection.

“It’s such a moral debate to consider other options in these cases, and we just want to allow clients to say goodbye in their time, while attempting to mitigate risks for our teams” she said.

“I also like the idea of delivering a sedative in the car, providing there is enough room to do so safely,” said Donna McCoy Williams, DVM, CCRT, CVA, owner of My Pet’s Animal Hospital and co-owner of Sarasota Animal Hospital in Sarasota, Florida.

Williams has performed outdoor euthanasia procedures on rare occasions, but My Pets has gone 100% curbside service, with the only exceptions for extreme emergency or euthanasia, if the client refuses other options.

“We are offering telemedicine when appropriate as well,” she said.

Some practices are making exceptions for difficult conversations, such as telling a client their pet has cancer, as well as when a pet has been attacked by another animal or hit by a car. And, for those who feel comfortable with it, in-home end-of-life care remains an option.

“With practices cutting out elective appointments and procedures, there may be more time available to pursue in-home treatment options, especially for euthanasia services,” added AAHA accreditation specialist Nicole Fabrizio, CVT. “This can help with social distancing during these times while still providing this essential service to pets and their people.”

There is no one right answer for every scenario, so the most important thing any hospital can do is to clearly communicate new procedures, so clients know what to expect, while listening for clients’ and pets’ unique needs.

AAHA practice consultant Beth Armstrong, CVT, CCFP, said it’s important to remember that the goal of euthanasia—Latin for “good death”—is to make the experience pain-free for the pet, as easy as possible for the owner, and special for the family.

“When there is a pandemic, we face the challenge of changing what we once did to an alternative that may not be the experience the owner was expecting, but no matter how we decide to handle it, we must still provide an experience that the entire family feels is special.”

Check out the aaha.org/covid-19 page for more information and resources about this pandemic. If you’re an accredited member, join the AAHA-Accredited Members Facebook Page for more great peer support, tips, and advice on helping your hospital cope with the COVID-19 crisis. And as always, contact your Member Experience representative with any COVID-19 questions you have.

Photo credit: © iStock/Photoboyko