Thursday, February 19, 2015

What I know: At Home Euthanasia - by Rene Schweitzer

Rene and I were chatting the other day and she brought up the subject of at home euthanasia.  I was fortunate enough to be able to do this for my cat Em who was dying of cancer.  I know many people are very uncomfortable with this topic, but we take on pets knowing their life span is designed to be shorter than our own, and this will inevitably be something we will have to deal with.  I hope you find some benefit to this discussion.

What I know about at-home euthanasia

Disclaimer: This post will contain difficult-to-read content about euthanasia done in your home. I will not post graphic photos, but please know there will be honest, explicit content about the process.

The last photo I took of our Tucker, the day before he died

For anyone who owns a cat, there will come a time when the end of their life is near. Sometimes, your cat will pass on his/her own, but unfortunately, many times they will need help in passing. Most cat owners know that vet offices offer euthanasia, but few know that some vets will come to your home and perform the same procedure.

We had to make this unfortunate decision with our Tucker in July 2014. He had lung cancer, and his breathing was labored. If my husband hadn’t made a comment about having the euthanasia at home, I would not have known to consider it.

Why consider at-home euthanasia?
•  Your cat is traumatized by car rides or trips to the vet
• Your cat is having difficulty breathing or is injured and you don’t want to move him/her into a carrier or the car.
• You want the comfort and privacy of your own home
• You want your cat to have his/her final moments in familiar surroundings.

How to find a vet who offers this service:
• Start by asking your regular vet. If he/she doesn’t offer it, they may have a suggestion of someone who does. We were lucky to have a recommendation from our regular vet’s office. You can also search online.

• Call ahead to inquire about their services (if possible), even if it’s just a few hours ahead. The vet we used was wonderful in coaching and offering information during this stressful time. Here are some questions to ask when you make a query call:

What services do you offer for the body? (Our vet contracted with a local pet cemetery for cremation. In some areas you may be able to keep the body for your own burial.) 
What are your fees? (I must admit, I didn’t ask this question, but our vet offered the fee structure. I honestly didn’t care. Know that at-home vets may charge mileage, and an at-home euthanasia will probably cost more than an in-office one. I felt the extra charge was fair, given it was 10:30 on a Friday night.) 
What types of payment do you accept? (Our vet took only cash or checks. We wrote a check and went online to transfer the funds from our bank.) 
How will you deliver the remains? (if you choose an individual cremation) (The vet we used lived a good 45 minutes away, so I was fine with meeting at a park and ride.) 
What is your general schedule? (One of the vets I called would not come during evenings.)  
How will you perform the procedure? (Though this is a difficult question, it is good to know ahead of time so there won’t be any surprises.)

After you make “that call,” it is helpful to have these items handy to help with the procedure: a plastic garbage bag and a large old towel.

When the vet arrives
The vet will allow you time to say goodbye (we had waited an hour before she arrived and had already done this). You may also choose to pay before the procedure is done—I recommend doing this. We paid around $400 for the mileage, procedure, cremation, and an extra $25 for a paw print medallion like the photo below.

Choose a place in your home with some floor room. Position the cat near you, your spouse, or any loved one who wants to be with your cat. The vet will administer an injection that puts your cat to sleep. Our vet injected without an IV. Given that Tucker was most likely dehydrated from not eating much, I preferred this method. It would have been difficult and stressful to find a vein.

While the injection is fast-acting, it isn’t instant—it may take a few minutes to take affect. I wish I had known this ahead of time. After that injection, Tucker got woozy and tried to get away. If you can, gently hold your cat in place or pet him/her and talk to him/her to comfort him/her while the vet is giving the first injection.

Your cat will slowly relax and appear to fall asleep. His/her eyes may not fully close. After your cat is asleep, the vet may ask for the garbage bag and towel. The garbage bag will act to protect your floor (after death, your cat may release his/her bowels or bladder). The towel will lie between your cat and the bag as padding. When you are ready, the vet will administer the final injection. Ours injected directly into the heart. It was immediate—his heart stopped right away and then he was gone. The vet checked to make sure there was no heartbeat.

The vet will allow you time to be with your cat’s body, if you choose. We chose to let our other cats smell his body, but of course, this is up to you. Our vet went to her car for a little while when we did this.

You may select a special toy or item (like a small blanket) to be cremated with your pet—we chose Tucker’s favorite yarn ball.

We chose to have Tucker cremated with a favorite toy. This is optional.
When you are ready, the vet will gently take the body away and place it in her car. She gave instructions on when the remains would be ready (about one week). In total, she was at our house about 20 minutes.

While this isn’t a pleasant subject, I hope this has shed some light on the procedure. I feel that knowledge is power, and while no one wants to make this decision, knowing what to expect made me feel a bit more comforted.



  1. This post contains a lot of really useful information for pet parents. I assisted in several at-home euthanasias over the years and they really do seem more comfortable for the pet owners. I am surprised to see this vet did the injection into the heart. I think there is some controversy with that method. But if the cat does not have a good vein, it really would be the best way. I've seen it done only on sedated animals... mostly exotic and small pets.

  2. This post made my human sad, but thank you so much for this much-needed information.

  3. Thank you for posting this. Yes, it's a difficult subject, but when we were going through this we would have benefitted from such an article. I hope it does the same for someone, when it is needed.

  4. I was also surprised by the injection into the heart. When I had my dwarf hamster euthanized (at the vet office) - since he was so small the vet warned me he wouldn't be able to find a vein so he just injected the little fella in his tummy area.

    It's good to know some vets are willing to do in-home euthanasia. I took both of my dogs to the vet for their "final visit" and was really glad the vet patiently explained the process to me. Although I do wish they had let me pay first - I didn't really think that was an option - especially since I was a mess afterwards.

    Thanks for the informative post!

  5. I wish our vet would come to the home. I think it is better for the kitty to be in their own home all the way until the end.

  6. We've been fortunate to have a vet that does in-home euthanasia for the last two such situations, and our experience has been much as described above. Very positive, given the circumstances. Our vet has had me hold the cat in a towel on my lap as she administered both shots...sat with us as the shots took effect...let us sit with the body until we were ready, and then gently took the body, wrapped in the towel, to her car. The bill comes a week or two later about the same time as I go to her office to pick up the ashes. As difficult as it is, being at home makes it slightly easier - both for us and, I believe, the cat. (I have memories of trying to drive away from the vet's office after an in-office euthanasia sobbing so hard that I know, in retrospect, it was a miracle I didn't cause an accident on the road.) If any of your readers are in the St Louis, Missouri area and need a referral, let me know.

  7. A very informative post. Though it made me sad, it has very good information.

  8. brandi was put to sleep in my arms in our home with me saying my goodbyes and expressing my love. I am so happy I did that. I think it was comforting to both of us, a nice comfortable room at home, soft pets and words, a very gentle goodbye. She was carried out wrapped in a pretty blanket and arrived a week later as ashes to oversee her mommy and the new kitty, Quinn, and to keep other kitties company who's ashes are on my bookcase.

  9. Renato was put to sleep in my arms at 4 months of age, he had HCM (the most common type of heart disease in cats), he was put to sleep in the vet's office though. I had him privately cremated. Nico was put to sleep on the operating table, I was with him as he died, but I could not hold him due to the vets doing all kinds of things to try and save him. He was also privately cremated. Nico is now in my memorial keepsake necklace around my neck as I write this comment, Renato will be made into a diamond hand made ring, it is being made now. Such great information on this difficult topic. Thank you.

  10. Yep, that is an unpleasant topic, but an important one. I'm glad it was covered here.

  11. Thanks for sharing this info. I've always thought at home would be better. My vet doesn't do that. I never thought about contacting another vet because I always felt it should be done by the vet that took care of my baby during the illness.

  12. This post is very informative. Like what Brian said, unpleasant but necessary to discuss. Thanks.

    Emma and Buster

  13. This was a tough one to read, as it's hard to hear when a beloved pet must leave us. As you say, it's inevitable. I've always taken my cats to the vets office but I can see where when they are ill and in pain it would be easier and less stressful to have someone come to them.

    Thanks for the information...I hope it is a long time before I have to think of it.

  14. In our area there is a service that will come to your home. I wish I had been better prepared for when I had to make this choice for Gracie. But my sweet Gracie gave me my final lesson and if or when I ever have to do it again, I'll know better what to will happen. As much as we don't like to think about this, it is good to know because when you're in the thick of it there is so much emotion.

  15. Thank you for this article, from the bottom of my heart. This is what I want for my "kids".

  16. I also thank you for sharing your experience Rene, I wish in the past that I would have been able to have my beloved kitties pass at home...

  17. Thanks for this excellent post. Our vet does do at-home euthanasia.


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