Pet hospice: Bridging the last stages of terminal illness and euthanasia - DVM
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Pet hospice: Bridging the last stages of terminal illness and euthanasia


Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice & In-Home Euthanasia, Lutz, Fla.

Dr. Dani McVety, a veterinarian in central Florida, started doing pet home euthanasia in August 2009, just a few months after graduating from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. A few months later, McVety invited Dr. Mary Gardner, whom she had met in school, to join her. She named the practice, Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia, after watching a Chihuahua pass peacefully curled up in its owner's lap and thinking, "This is how euthanasias should be."

The goal from the start was to develop a pet hospice and home euthanasia model that they could take around the country so that other veterinarians wouldn't have to keep re-inventing the wheel. Lap of Love offers only pet euthanasia, pet hospice, after-care service and no other veterinary services. Currently the service covers central and southern Florida areas. And their plan is to open another service in Charlotte, N.C.

"I was a volunteer at a human hospice in undergrad and then worked in pet emergency care right after graduating," McVety explains. "It was hard to see pets in pain. Combined with my human hospice experience made me think about pet hospice and the need for comfort care at the end of a pet's life." At first, McVety thought they would offer care similar to the kind that human hospice programs provide. They soon found out that it was too much for pet owners to manage. She and Gardner went back to the drawing board and worked out more practical, client-friendly ways to provide quality of life and comfort care for terminal pets that includes home euthanasia and even pet cremation as well as resources to help with bereavement.

The work itself is rewarding, McVety says. In fact, her clients let her know how much home euthanasia and pet hospice mean to them. Client communication remains the most challenging aspect to this service, she says. In fact, they spend much of their time educating pet owners about disease progression, quality of life and pain control so they can formulate their plans based on what the pet is going through. Most clients appreciate knowing what to expect, she says, and it makes them feel better to have something they can do for their pets, even if the decision is to humanely euthanize them.

McVety says she started this service simply by visiting area veterinarians to let them know that she would make home visits for pet euthanasia and pet hospice care for them. It helped get the word out. Her practice really took off after an article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times in early 2010 on pet hospice. Between people reading the article and finding them online at their practice's website and on Facebook, they've been busy and growing. She said they just added another location in North Carolina and will be starting another in Orlando soon. She and Gardner will be talking about how to provide pet hospice care at the 2012 North American Veterinary Conference to share their experience with others.

Home to Heaven, Loveland, Colo.

Dr. Kathleen Cooney, a 2004 Colorado State University veterinary school graduate, saw a lot of pets with cancer in her first job after graduation. She realized there was no good setup to provide home care for these pets. As a CSU veterinary student she had taken advantage of the pet-hospice training at the Argus Institute. This training, in combination with her practice experience, opened her eyes to the need to offer pet hospice and home euthanasia for pets. By 2006, she moved back to Ft. Collins, Colo. and opened Home to Heaven, a mobile veterinary practice dedicated to serving pet owners with terminally ill pets by providing hospice and palliative end-of-life care. Her practice averaged about 10 calls a week in the first year, she says, but now she receives as many as 35 calls a week and services northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. She was not surprised at the growth. There are a lot of pets with cancer, and they would be likely candidates for her services. In addition, she called the local pet crematory to estimate the number of pet deaths in the area. When she spoke with them, she learned that they were getting four calls a day asking for references for pet euthanasia. This knowledge inspired her to go ahead with her plans.

To start, Cooney sent a letter to local veterinarians asking them to refer their terminal pets for either pet hospice and/or home euthanasia. She also took out advertisements in the local newspaper. She does a lot of pet home euthanasia right now, but her vision is broader. She sees pet hospice and euthanasia as vital resources for practitioners to turn to for end-of-life support for pets.

When a pet is euthanized, Cooney in turn contacts the pet's regular veterinarian so that clients don't have to make this call. She also provides memorial space on her website for owners of deceased pets to help them grieve about the pet's loss. She takes pride in helping pet owners understand the progression of disease and prognosis so pet owners make informed decisions about a pet's end-of-life care. Cooney says she wants to help other veterinarians find information on home pet euthanasia, and she has recently published her first e-book on this subject at

Cooney also started a web-based Pet Euthanasia Directory ( so that other veterinarians who are providing pet end-of-life services and home euthanasia can be listed in one place for pet owners to find.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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