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Euthanasia can be a very sensitive subject to many people – clients and the veterinary team alike. If you are thinking about becoming a vet tech, you’ll need to make sure you’re able to be compassionate and professional during the animal euthanasia process. This is one quality that vet tech programs may not be able to teach you, but rather a skill you either possess or don’t possess. As a veterinary technician, you play an integral role in making the euthanasia process as stress-free and smooth-lined as possible for not only your clients but your veterinarian as well. Clients will rely on your knowledge and compassion to give them the information they require to make the most appropriate decisions during these difficult times. Your veterinarian will also rely on your assistance before, during, and after the euthanasia process to make sure everything goes as efficiently as possible.
Euthanasia literally comes from the Greek term “Good death.” We want the end of life process to be as “good” as we can make it. Whether you are new to the profession or even if you have been in the veterinary field for years, euthanasia is never easy. Our goal as veterinary professionals is to ease the animal’s suffering. It is never easy or simple, since no situation or circumstance is like another. If you and the rest of your team keep the pet’s comfort and quality of life at the forefront of your minds, you can rest assured that you are helping in the transition to peace for that pet. Mary Gardner of Lap of Love, says that “At some point, we move from ensuring a quality of life to ensuring a quality of death.” Clients deal with grief and the end of life experience differently. Some may be abrupt and want the whole ordeal to be over as soon as possible, others may drag it out far too long, some are overly emotional, and some display very little emotion. We have to be prepared to deal with all manners and ranges of emotion.
There are many things you can do as a veterinary technician to make the end of life process a bit easier on everyone involved. Keep in mind that every practice does things differently. These are just some examples and tips to consider incorporating into your practice.
Before the Appointment
Provide information ahead of time
The best time to discuss the details of the euthanasia appointment is before the client is in the hospital for the euthanasia. When the client calls in to schedule the euthanasia appointment, or if it comes up as a future possibility, talk them through the process so they know what to expect when they come in, where to go, how the appointment will go, what the options are for aftercare, and how much the appointment will cost. If the client knows these important details ahead of time, they won’t be surprised when they come in for their appointment. Oftentimes the receptionist can handle this conversation, but sometimes the conversation is passed to the technician so be prepared to have a compassionate and informative conversation.
Prepare the room
When you notice a euthanasia on the schedule, take some time to prepare the room before the client comes in. Many clinics have a designated euthanasia room in a quiet part of the hospital, often with or near a separate entrance so the client doesn’t have to leave through a lobby full of waiting people afterwards.
- Ensure there is soft, comfortable, and clean bedding. Spread it out on the table for small pets and on the floor for large pets.
- If possible, try to keep the lighting soft and dim. If you can’t dim the lights, try placing a lamp in the room and turn off the fluorescent lights, as Dr. Gardner suggests.
- Consider candles. This can help cover up typical hospital smells and make the room feel homier. Just make sure they aren’t too strongly scented. These can also be used for a calmer ambiance.
- Provide background noise. Place a sound machine or music player in the room. This will help block out hospital noise and also provide a simple distraction for the clients. Sometimes it can even calm the pet. Examples of background noise could include calming water sounds or music. Think of spa music for comparison, something nice and relaxing.
- Make sure there are tissues close by. You could even consider keeping small packets of travel pack tissues in a nice basket for the client to take with them when they leave.
- If at all possible, try to keep the room temperature comfortable. Most hospitals have a cold and sterile feel. If you can, turn the temperature up a few degrees.
Prepare the paperwork
Have the euthanasia and after care documents printed, dated, in the room, and ready to go over with the client at the appropriate time.
Know after care ahead of time
Hopefully, you will know beforehand how the client wishes to take care of their pet after the euthanasia. If not, make sure you have brochures and the necessary information available for them at the time of the appointment.
During the Appointment
When they arrive
Make sure a staff member is available to help the client and pet into the clinic from their vehicle. Many pets at this stage in life have mobility issues and the clients may need help getting their pet out of the vehicle and into the clinic. If the client is elderly, have someone carry the pet carrier in, even if the animal is small. Have a gurney or stretcher handy in case it is needed to help bring the pet inside. Once inside, direct them straight into the euthanasia room. Don’t make them wait in the lobby.
Going over paperwork
Once they are settled in the euthanasia room, obtain a history if that is needed, otherwise, go over the necessary paperwork. Be empathetic. Don’t rush. Ask the client if they have any questions or concerns.
It is usually best that payment is handled ahead of time. Nobody wants to go up to the front desk after they have just euthanized their pet to take care of the bill. If payment wasn’t handled before the appointment. Go ahead and have a receptionist come into the room to handle the invoice before the pet is euthanized. That way the client can leave whenever they are ready.
Ensure the client knows what to expect during the euthanasia process. Let them know what types of injections will be given. Try to get a feel for the client’s expectations, or simply ask them. You can ask “have you ever experience euthanasia with another pet?” Some clients will want to be present for the entire process and some will not. If they don’t say either way, don’t be afraid to ask what they are comfortable with.
Prepare the pet
You and your veterinarian should discuss ahead of time what needs to be done as far as preparing the pet and the necessary injections. If your veterinarian likes to have a catheter in place, make sure the required materials are ready. Place the catheter – try to place it in the room if possible, so you don’t have to take the pet away from the owners. If the owners aren’t comfortable with this, you can take the pet to the treatment area for this step. Most owners want to be with their pet during every last moment, so most of the time, catheter placement, sedative injections, and the euthanasia, are done in the room with the clients present. If you need help, ask another staff member or the veterinarian to assist you.
During the euthanasia
It will be up to your veterinarian whether or not they would like your presence in the exam room during the euthanasia. If there is not an IV catheter in place, they may need your help getting an accessible vein. Sometimes, the veterinarian prefers to go in on their own. It is important to read the room during the euthanasia. Sometimes it is appropriate to talk to the pet and/or client and other times it is not. Be positive and loving in every situation and say nice things about the pet as he or she passes.
Some clients want to spend time with their pet after they have passed. Others want to leave right away. Ask them if they need more time and allow it if they do. Make sure you let them know how and where to find you if you leave the room. You can tell them “I will check on you in 5 minutes, but if you need anything before then, please knock on the door and I will be right in.”
Most clients appreciate some kind of memorial item such as a clay paw print, ink paw print, or hair clippings. Depending on what your clinic provides, you can give these to the owners before they leave or send them at a later date.
Prepare the body
Make sure you know how the remains will be cared for. Remove the body from the room and prepare it as discreetly as possible. Make sure to label appropriately to make sure the remains are handled as directed.
Prepare a sympathy card as soon as the appointment is over, so you don’t forget. Have as many staff as possible, including your veterinarian, sign the card and write a sweet message if they’d like to. Ensure that the card is either given over to an office staff member to address and mail or do it yourself. Some practices send flowers or other special memorial items. Make sure your practice designates someone to facilitate this at the appropriate time.