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Quality of life and death
How can you talk to pet owners about euthanasia when their immediate reaction is to flinch away from the very word? Here are some tips to help your veterinary team smooth the transition for clients.
Photo: Shutterstock.comIt's a known fact: The ending of a story is the part that matters most. Every good moment, every bad moment and every moment between leads to a grand finale. And you're tasked with making sure the finale of a pet's story is a happy one-for everyone involved.
But broaching the subject of euthanasia with a pet owner can be difficult. The word carries a negative connotation that brings guilt, and their immediate gut reaction is to shake their head at the notion and say, “Not yet.”
Keep budgets in mind
No one enters the veterinary profession for the money. But budgets are still applicable when it comes to assessing a patient's quality of life and death. These aren't only monetary budgets, they're budgets we all as people and animal lovers have ingrained in our hearts and brains. Here are a few to keep in mind, according to experts and CVC educators Dani McVety, DVM, and Mary Gardner, DVM.
The time budget: Your client could be a single mom working three jobs so she and her kids can make it. Some just can't afford the treatment or the time.
The emotional budget: “I just can't do it anymore.” Sound familiar? These are the clients who are terrified of coming home to find their pet has passed or feel anxiety for another personal reason. Emotionally, they're spent.
The physical budget: Your client could be an elderly man who lives on the second floor with a mastiff that needs hospice. It's hard work.
It's a hard task making the process beautiful, loving and compassionate so your clients feel like they got the happy ending they so dearly want for their beloved pet. And the first step is to admit that the end of a pet's story is near. Here are a few tips to help pet owners understand when it might be time to say goodbye.
Coins in the jar
This is a simple yet mindful exercise for clients who have a hard time seeing whether the bad days outweigh the good ones. Simply have your clients put two containers out in their home-one for good days, one for bad. Tell clients to drop a coin in the proper jar each day to track the pet's well-being. If the bad days overwhelm the good days after a week or so, it may be time for them to consider euthanasia.
Taking scheduled photos of a pet (say, once a year) can help pet owners realize just how much their pet has aged over time. Explaining the difference between senior pets and geriatric pets will help them realize just how far their pet has come as well. “A thorough exam and conversation is needed to really determine the state of the pet and what we can do to help them manage their age-related changes,” Dr. Gardner says.
Knowing what to say
Whatever your role in practice, it's important to practice your best communication skills.
Keep verbal priming in mind. So instead of saying, “You are making the right decision,” show you're right there alongside your client by saying, “We're making the best decision.”
According to Dr. McVety, the most powerful statement veterinary professionals have is the chance to say, “If he were mine, I would …” Think of pediatricians-you look to them to tell you what they'd do in your shoes for their own children. According to Dr. McVety, veterinary professionals can and should be able to give that answer. (Want even more conversation tips, tricks and walk-throughs? They're here).
The human-animal bond is a fascinating experience sewn into the world of veterinary medicine. Each story an animal and owner has is unique, and the fact that you can give each of these stories a beautiful ending is an honor.
Editor's note: Euthanasia is a delicate and painful process for clients as they say goodbye to their beloved pets, especially when the process is actually taking place. Here are ways veterinarians, veterinary technicians and receptionists gently alert others that a euthanasia is in progress.