As a first-time pet owner, euthanasia was a topic I never wanted to think about — and for over a decade, I didn’t. It was only when my cat was diagnosed with an untreatable and painful condition that I was forced to quickly gather as much information as possible on euthanizing a pet, or ending an animal’s life with medication. I researched, spoke to my veterinarian, yet in my rushed and emotional state, I never learned I had the option to euthanize my cat at home as opposed to in a clinic.
“I’ve been performing at-home euthanasia for 13 years and still I wish it was something more readily available,” says Dr. Dani McVety, hospice veterinarian and founder of Lap of Love, a national network of veterinarians who specialize in end-of-life care for pets. “It starts with educating all vets on the benefits of suggesting it to their clients. The number one benefit is for the pet. They are comfortable, they are secure. The second benefit is for the family. They get exactly what they need during those last minutes with their pet.”
Here, experts explain the process of in-home pet euthanasia and detail what you need to know to decide if its right for you.
What is pet euthanasia?
McVety defines the word euthanasia for her clients as “good death.” It’s derived from two Greek words: eu, which translates into well, and thanatos, which translates to death.
“That is literally what we are providing with euthanasia,” she explains in an educational video. “We are providing the best death possible, and in honesty, in some ways, a better death than some of us are going to get.”
Also, keep in mind that pet euthanasia is not just reserved for dogs and cats. McVety’s team euthanizes 10,000 pets a month nationwide and that has included pet skunks, pigs, rodents, iguanas, chickens and more.
At-home euthanasia vs. at a veterinary hospital or clinic
Pet euthanasia is controlled the same way no matter where it is performed. In order to euthanize an animal in a clients’ home or in a professional setting, an individual must have a doctorate in veterinary medicine, also called a DVM license. This is why a conversation about any type of euthanasia will likely start in your vet’s office.
“The main reason why someone would choose in-home euthanasia is if its a planned event,” explains Dr. Kate Domenico, an emergency veterinarian at Maine Veterinary Medical Center. “Say your pet is getting older or you have a cancer diagnosis. You have time to prepare to make this decision as opposed to a very urgent case due to an emergency.”
When it comes to the medical euthanasia procedure itself, the process is the same in-home or in a hospital. Doctors in a hospital have more medications at their disposal than an at-home practice, but it is still a very smooth procedure, explains Domenico, who also owns Island Veterinary Service, a clinic that provides house calls to the island communities of Casco Bay off the coast of Maine.
“The pet is very relaxed,” she says. “Typically, we put a catheter in and allow the owner to hold the pet, whether that’s laying on the bed or sitting in a favorite chair.”
What at-home pet euthanasia costs
On average, the cost of a veterinarian house call fluctuates based on urgency and ranges between $200 to $400 plus an added in-home euthanasia fee of $50, according to Domenico. In comparison, an in-clinic pet euthanasia costs between $80 to $100 with a potential additional exam fee between $60 to $80.
“In-home euthanasia will always be more expensive than in a clinic,” adds McVety. “That is because there is a lot of time dedicated to each client, from driving to them and preparation to added checks and balances with medications we use outside a hospital.”
The benefits of choosing to euthanize a pet at home
When it comes to euthanasia, the benefits of being able to receive pet care in your own home go far beyond convenience. “People choose in-home euthanasia because there is a peace and comfort level [for both pets and humans] that comes with having this experience in your own home,” Domenico says.
Here are the top benefits of choosing an at-home euthanasia for both animals and their owners, according to veterinarians:
Everyone experiences less stress.
Not having to transport a sick or anxious animal in a vehicle and force them into an unfamiliar environment dramatically reduces the amount of stress involved in end of life pet care.
“Wherever they are most comfortable, we go to them,” explains Domenico of in-home euthanasia. “For example, I’ve had people who choose to do it in a yard in the sunshine where their pet has spent so much happy time rather than in a cold, sterile environment. It’s so much less stressful for the animal.”
Pet owner Kelsey Murray’s cat Mia had an inoperable tumor when they decided to euthanize at home. “She was so incredibly sick so having an option for a vet to come to us made all the difference,” she notes. “It was such a convenient option because transporting her would have been way too hard on all of us.”
The environment can be thoughtfully curated.
When putting down an animal at home, pet owners can also control the environment and fill it with things their pet loves. “We do anything that will create an environment of comfort for the pet and the pet owner,” says Domenico. “So it’s thinking about having all the things they enjoy around them.” This could be things like their favorite toys, snacks or wrapping them in their favorite blanket, she explains.
Owners can incorporate joyful activities and locations.
When you choose to euthanize your pet outside a clinic or hospital, that doesn’t necessarily mean you must have the procedure at your house. Domenico encourages clients to think about doing something that the pet really enjoys doing or visiting a place they love. “Most of the dogs I see love the beach,” says Domenico. “I’ve had clients give them one last great meal at the beach, one last play on the beach and even had their friends come by for one ceremonious last hurrah.”
McVety, who is based in Florida, has also performed euthanasia on local beaches and even once put down a dog who loved to swim in a pool on his favorite float.
Vets are able to be more present.
McVety, who employs over 250 doctors around the country that specialize only in at-home hospice care says that the typical veterinarian working in a clinic sees 20-30 pets a day. By contrast, those focused on at-home euthanasia see three to four families per day, she says. “We get to be so present with each client, and it’s a very different experience for everyone,” she notes.
More family members can be involved.
When electing to euthanize a family pet at home, McVety always recommends having kids there. “Death is a part of life,” she says. “I had a case where three young boys carried their dog’s body out to the car as pallbearers.” After the experience, the entire family was left with a very special memory, she explains.
Pet siblings can also be involved in the right circumstance, explains Domenico. “Sometimes people want to bring another pet,” she says. “I usually recommend letting them have some time together, but then separate them for the actual procedure. It’s about judging the situation to see what will be most calm and comforting.”
It makes an emotional day easier.
Euthanizing a pet is an extremely difficult decision that comes with many unavoidable emotions, including grief and oftentimes, guilt. Having to go into a clinic can exacerbate those emotions. “The last thing a family needs is the thoughts of getting in the car and having those be the last minutes they have with their pet,” McVety says.
Alternatively, in-home euthanasia is less emotionally triggering after its complete because clients can grieve in the privacy and comfort of their own space. “One of the things I hated to see the most was any clients walking out of the emergency medical center and leaving with an empty collar,” says McVety. “They would get in the car, and they would never move, and I knew they were crying. With at-home, I can come to them. Then, I get to leave them exactly where they were.”
How to plan for at-home pet euthanasia
McVety feels the biggest limiting factor to choosing an at-home euthanasia is finding a doctor in your area who can come to you. “There is a shortage of vets out there, and there are times we can’t get to you for three to four days,” she notes. “It’s important to make the decision as soon as you can.”
When you’ve made the decision that at-home euthanasia is right for you and your pet, here’s what to do:
1. Find a practitioner
Meeting with your regular vet is the best place to start when considering in-home euthanasia. If they do not offer the service, ask them to refer you to a licensed hospice veterinarian who does.
2. Ask questions
Whether you choose to plan an in-home euthanasia with your own vet or a new vet, McVety suggests asking the following questions so you know what to expect and are prepared:
- How will my pet be sedated? “The doctor you choose needs to use some kind of pre-euthanasia sedation. While it’s not completely necessary, it is very important for the process to go smoothly in-home,” says McVety.
- What type of aftercare do you provide, and do you facilitate it or am I responsible?
- What type of memorial items do you provide and do they cost extra? “We provide a booklet of items they can order, and we provide a clay paw print, which is pretty standard,” says McVety.
3. Make an aftercare plan
When planning a euthanasia at home, you’ll need to consider how you want to handle your pet’s remains. There are three common options:
- Home burial: Your pets remains are left with you.
- Communal cremation: Your pet is cremated with other animals and ashes are not returned to you
- Private cremation: Your pet is cremated individually so their ashes will be returned to you.
If you’re planning to do a home burial, be advised that different municipalities have different laws around burying an animal on your property so be sure to check with your local government. If you’re planning to have your pet cremated, prices vary depending mostly on if you’d like the ashes of your animal back.
If you are planning to cremate your pet, ask your vet for the name of the crematorium they work with as they will be the one to quote you on prices and describe the services they provide, advises McVety.
In general, a communal cremation is less expensive. A private cremation, which ensures your pet’s ashes are kept safe so they can be returned to you, is pricer and cost varies depending on size of the animal. For example, to privately cremate an 80-pound golden retriever could cost as much as $450 while cremating a cat would cost around $250.
4. Communicate your wishes to your vet
“Once we counsel a person and we make the decision to euthanize at home together, we pick a time and date that is convenient for both of us,” explains Domenico. “Then they will make the decision of where exactly it will be done, which can be in the house or outside. After that, we decide how to handle the remains.”
This is the time to outline any aftercare requests you have that would affect your vet’s time. The most common is notifying your vet that you’d like to use ink or clay to capture a paw or nose print before the animal is buried or cremated so they can be prepared.
“We’ve had a lot of interesting requests in terms of aftercare, including taxidermy, freeze dried, cloning and tissue banking,” says McVety. “We do not do them, but we will facilitate it. For example, we will take the body to a taxidermist or I’ll take the tissue sample [to a tissue bank].”
5. Seek emotional support
There are bereavement counselors who specialize in pet loss just like those who specialize in human loss that provide group and individual sessions to clients. “There are a lot of cases where people have had a very difficult time with the loss of a pet,” Domenico says. “The human-animal bond is an extremely strong thing, and when we have that broken, it can be extremely hard. And it can be hard for the vet who doesn’t have the psychological training to help clients. Luckily, there are people that specialize in that to take a little bit of the burden off those of us in the veterinary world.”
The bottom line: “Whether in-home euthanasia is or is not right for you is something I believe everyone knows almost instinctively,” says McVety. “It also seems to me that once people have done it in the home, they don’t want to do it any other way. Unless it’s an emergency situation, they do not want to be in the hospital. And luckily, most clinics offer this.”