Unfortunately, many of us will have experienced first-hand the heartache of losing a pet. We can all empathise with the fear of our pets being alone or scared in their final moments. We want to be there to comfort them, and to ensure their passing is as peaceful as possible. So, how do we achieve this for our clients in the middle of a pandemic? How do we balance the client’s needs with the safety of the team?
The decision to PTS
With many practices not allowing clients in the building, and many allowing only one per pet, the decision making process around euthanasia can become stressful for our clients. Pre-COVID, often the whole family would attend the consult to discuss whether it is time to say goodbye.
Video consults are an excellent way to still include the whole family- you can examine the animal remotely whilst talking through your findings, then explain the options. This avoids any miscommunication between family members, as well as you having to repeat yourself.
When clients are allowed in the building, this should be for the shortest time possible. We all know that safety of the team comes first. However, a major source of complaint during the pandemic has been clients feeling rushed, or a lack of communication. They (wrongly, of course!) interpret this as vets only caring about finances.
Consider a video call to explain the euthanasia process, the options for the body and to go through the consent form. This avoids a lengthy discussion at the practice, and is better for the owner since they can be prepared. Video calls are more personable that telephone calls. Empathy is often conveyed better through facial expression than tone of voice.
If clients usually pay at the time of euthanasia, consider taking payment beforehand. Payment over the phone saves time at the practice and saves you from asking a distraught owner for money.
The euthanasia consult
Whether or not to allow clients in the building is currently a contentious topic. The decision is a personal one, and needs to be based on individual practice circumstances. The lay-out of the practice, whether any staff members are particularly vulnerable, and local COVID case numbers will all play a part in the decision. The following are some suggestions as to how to include your clients in the euthanasia process during COVID:
Consider allowing one client into the practice to be with their pet.
Naturally, the client should be asked to wear a mask, gown and gloves. Some vets have had great success with first taking the animal in to place an IV catheter with an extension set attached; so that social distancing can be maintained through the process. However, some vets have experienced hiccups with using giving sets in this way, so be sure you are comfortable with this method before considering it. If there are no other clients in the building, rather than the consult room you could use a larger area, such as the waiting room. This allows for better social distancing, which can prove challenging in a cramped consult room.
Consider using a Perspex screen for safety.
Place an IV catheter without the owner, then return to the consult room and allow the owner to be with their pet on the other side of a Perspex screen. This provides an extra layer of protection (on top of PPE) and allows for minimal time in the same room as the client, while still allowing the owner to be present.
Consider sedating dogs outside with the owner.
For high-risk clients, areas, or staff, consider sedating the dog in the carpark, then taking them inside for euthanasia. This allows the owner to be with the dog until they are no longer aware of their surroundings, which provides comfort to many owners.
For cats, you could consider taking the cat inside to sedate them, before quickly bringing them back to their owners in the car. The owner could then be with their feline friend until the sedative takes effect, at which point you could consider euthanasia outside with the owner present or return the cat into the premises. Of course, be aware both of other clients and the grieving family’s privacy; so this would need to be at a time or place that allows for discretion.
Create an outdoor space for euthanasia.
If space allows, you could consider setting up a sheltered outdoor area, such as a gazebo with the covered sides facing the car park, allowing for privacy. This way you can place an IV catheter in practice, then return and perform the euthanasia outside, with the client present. (Of course everyone would still need to be wearing PPE). Of course this is trickier with cats, where there is a flight risk, so you would need to sedate first.
Use technology where necessary.
If your practice has a strict no contact policy, you could use a video call to allow your clients to ‘virtually’ be with their pet through the process. Even this can give great comfort to an owner, since they can see that their pet is treated with dignity and care in their last moments; and hopefully that their passing was peaceful.
After the consult
Post-euthanasia support is more important now than ever. Clients are understandably already stressed, anxious, lonely, and often angry at the situation we find ourselves in. On top of all this, it is no surprise that clients are finding it much harder than usual to cope with the bereavement of a much loved pet. Sympathy cards, a follow up courtesy call to see how they are (from any member of the team) and referral to pet bereavement helplines are all ways in which you can support your client after the event.
Times are stressful for everyone just now. Balancing the clients’ needs with our own safety, and that of our colleagues, can be challenging. Regardless of your practice policies, there are many ways that you can ensure your clients feel looked after; that communication has been great and that you empathise with their situation.