Impact of social distancing on end-of-life veterinary care


New protocols in the face of COVID-19 have impacted most aspects of veterinary practice, perhaps none more so than euthanasia procedures.

Old dog with lipstick on his face

This picture of Ben, an old dog I took care of many years ago, shows pink lipstick all over his face. His mom kissed him over and over, then left him with his dad and me so we could help Ben leave peacefully. It is a reminder of the way things are supposed to be: Some family members stay, some go. But we have a choice.

I have been a house-call veterinarian for decades, and one of the most important parts of my work is end-of-life care. In-home euthanasia offers families and their pets a peaceful, calm setting during their final moments together. Most people choose to be present during the procedure, holding, talking to and kissing their beloved pets while anesthesia and then euthanasia solution are administered.

The coronavirus crisis has caused chaos in just about every aspect of our lives. People are sick and dying, we wonder how to buy food safely and, among so many other disruptions, we have to care for our pets in a new way. Veterinarians have been forced to create protocols that interfere with and eliminate the important close contact people have with their pets during both routine and end-of-life procedures.

Like everyone else, I’ve altered my house-call protocol in light of social distancing mandates. Over the past few weeks, I have euthanized a number of dogs outside in their backyard, with the family standing 10 feet away. I picked up a very sick cat from his home and brought him to my house where I gently took care of his parting without his mom present. All of this was arranged to maintain safe social distancing while giving the pet a dignified, peaceful end.

This is completely counter to my deep feelings about how end-of-life, humane euthanasia should be carried out. I feel compassion for the families and greatly appreciate their understanding and willingness to compromise. My patients were given the same care from my end, and maybe even a little more as I’ve taken on some of their people’s loving role during the procedure.

Initially, I was very reluctant to go into clients’ homes under these new circumstances. But the feedback I have received from clients is reassuring that even with COVID-19 dictating less than optimal conditions, they were satisfied because their pets were at home.

Dr. Shapiro owns Visiting Vet Service, a veterinary house-call practice in Westport, CT.

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