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Making a decision about whether it’s time to let a beloved cat go is one of the hardest things any cat parent will have to go through. The fact that most cats get so stressed when having to go to the vet clinic makes the decision even harder. Having the euthanasia performed in the comfort of your home can make saying goodbye a more peaceful experience for both cat and human.

When I first published Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher thirteen years ago, I heard from so many readers that they had no idea that having a pet euthanized at home was even an option. Thankfully, home euthanasia has become more common since then.

Not all veterinarians offer home euthanasia, but some will if asked

Not all veterinarians offer home euthanasia. Those that do generally don’t advertise the fact. I feel that asking a veterinarian whether they offer this service is extremely important while the cat is healthy, rather than waiting until there is a need for the service and then to find out that it is not available.

In recent years, a handful of veterinarians have embraced the concept of home euthanasia and built their entire practice around only providing this service. Even though you won’t have an ongoing relationship with these vets and they won’t know your cat, they are experienced with making the euthanasia process calm and peaceful for both cat and human.

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Dr. Boos with her 18-year-old kitty Nala

A Tender Passing

Dr. Debbie Boos recently started the to my knowledge first ever feline-only in-home euthanasia practice in Northern Virginia. After 38 years of conventional practice, most of those years with cats and 33 of them as co-owner of a feline-only clinic, she decided that “I was done with conventional medicine, but not with kitties.”

Dr. Boos found that she had an affinity for doing euthanasia, which she views as “a graceful gift to give to cats and their owners.” She brings her natural intuition and compassion to what most would consider a difficult task.

The process

The process starts with a phone consultation, during which she asks about the cat’s condition, medical history and personality, and finds out what the client’s expectation are.

Once she arrives at the client’s home, she takes her time. Clients will select an area of the home where the cat is most comfortable, whether it’s a favorite bed, a quiet spot, or a sun puddle. When client and cat are ready, Dr. Boos injects a sedative, which places the cat into a relaxed and sleepy state. Once the sedative has taken effect, usually within five to fifteen minutes, the euthanasia  solution will be injected into the cat’s vein.

For cats who are scared of strangers, or who get easily stressed, Dr. Boos recommends pre-sedation with Gabapentin, an oral medication that can be mixed with a treat or food, which clients obtain from their regular vet. She says this has only been necessary for a small fraction of her clients. “90% of the time I walk into the home without the need for Gabapentin.”

Dr. Boos never rushes the process and clients are given as much time as they need to say goodbye.

“No two house calls are the same,” said Dr. Boos. “Never. Not where I do it, not the response, not the questions, not the emotions. Some people want me to say nothing, some chit chat through the process and it will hit them later.” She often feels like she’s being psychologist as much as veterinarian. “I let them tell  me what to do,” she said. Most often, she said, the whole process is very peaceful.

The emotional challenges of performing euthanasia

It may be hard to understand that it is possible to love doing this work, but Dr. Boos finds providing this service gratifying. “I ask myself all the time that I have the power to take a life, and how do I do that without falling apart?” she told me. “I certainly fell apart with my own kitties. The way I am with my own is different from how I am with my patients – that’s why doctors don’t work on their children!”

While working, “I can stand back,” she says. “Clients don’t need me to cry and sympathize, they just want my empathy.” The most difficult euthanasias for her are when she’s known a cat since kittenhood. “Those are the ones that slay me,” she said.

For many veterinarians, Covid has impacted the way they practice, but Dr. Boos said it hasn’t really changed how she does a house call. “Most clients are vaccinated. I wear a mask, but I encourage clients not to wear one.” She doesn’t want the mask to come between client and cat during those final, precious moments.

Dr. Boos loves what she does. “This is going to fulfill me,” she said. “For how long, I don’t know, but I hope do be doing this for a long time.”

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Nala and Simba

Dr. Boos shares her home with 18-year-old Nala, who has multiple health issues. “I’m just like a client when it comes to her,” she said. ” I have ten different foods on the shelf, and I can’t travel anywhere because nobody else can take care of her.” She lost Simba two years ago.

For more information about Dr. Boos and her services, please visit A Tender Passing.

Photo at top Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash , all other photos ©Dr. Debbie Boos, used with permission

13 Comments on A Tender Passing: In-Home Euthanasia Provides Comfort and Peace

  1. We sadly had to say goodbye to our darling Maine Coon Lottie last week, who was 16.5 years old. She had been battling lURIs since having had pneumonia and a collapsed lung 3.5 years previously and was hospitalized for over 3 weeks but managing to overcome her illness at that time. This time, however, after 6 weeks of antibiotics, steaming her several times a day and other meds, to help her condition, she had more bad days than good, stopped eating, was very lethargic and we had to decide to let her go. I am though, so upset that our vets wouldn’t come out to us, as they would normally do so before the pandemic. They even said that we might not be able to go in with her but let my husband do so, on his insistence. We couldn’t see our normal vet as he was on holiday and the vet he saw was asking for payment immediately afterwards (we’ve paid out thousands to this practice in the past and always on time) and whether we wanted a cremation etc or not. She was young and totally insensitive. I am not strong enough to complain yet but shall be writing to them in the future, as our dear Lottie was so stressed being put into her carrier and travelling to the vets, 7 miles away. I’m heartbroken to think of her being so stressed in her last hour. We have always championed this practice and indeed recommended them to several of our family, who have changed vets and moved to them. Surely the vet in question should have been trained on this and shown us more compassion at such a difficult time. I am both angry and upset by her conduct, let alone the practice as a whole.

    • I’m so sorry about your Lottie, and I hate that you had such an awful experience at the end. As far as I’m concerned, there is absolutely no excuse for not letting clients go into a clinic for to be present during a euthanasia, even if they still do curbside service for other appointments.

      • Thank you Ingrid, I agree, we have been with this practice for years. Our vet, who has treated Lottie and our other kitty from day one and who was back from holiday yesterday, phoned and left a voicemail with his condolences. I think that he will be upset to hear what happened to us with Lottie when we next speak

  2. Dr. Boos was our Veterinarian when my family lived in the DC area. I can truly say that Dr. Debbie is a wonderful, and compassionate person, she cared for and helped two of my fur-babies through kidney disease in one and diabetes in the other, and when the time came for both to cross the rainbow bridge she was there for us all.
    I am so happy for Dr. Boos in her retirement from practicing Veterinary Medicine, and wish her much success in her new venture of compassion care for kitties and their owners.

  3. In our area we have a group that we have used now for our past two kitties who were at their time with the family. It was very quiet and relaxing and we sure appreciated the calm support that was provided for Timmy and Buddy Budd
    More cat lovers need to know about this thanks for the article

  4. Perhaps being in a rural area has helped as we have had a vet service that is very willing to do this. Not only to perform the unfortunate task but to do it with compassion and expertise. Also as we’ve always had a number of cats they also will come to our home to do annual check ups, for us this is far superior to taking the cats into the vets facility as it is very stressful for all of our babies, and again they do it at a reasonable cost. When we have had to say goodbye, it has allowed us to do so in our pets natural surroundings to allow for the best “last day” possible.

  5. There is a wonderful service out there called “Lap of Love.” These vets are located throughout the country & provide hospice care as well as in-home euthanasia. I called on them in 2013 & 2014 for our 20 year old tuxedo girl who was in her last stage of kidney failure and our 13 year old Maine Coon boy who had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. These vets were extremely compassionate, gentle & kind to all of us. I would highly recommend them.

    • I agree. I called several vet services in my area and Lap of Love was the only one that didn’t feel like a business transaction. From the first phone call to my Dax’s last breath and beyond, the compassion I felt was so comforting.

  6. Ingrid, thank you very much for the wonderful article about Dr. Boos. Having the option to say good bye at home is a precious gift for the cat and the human. It really touched my heart and thank you for letting people know this is an option at least in some places.

    My Ella had been sick, we’d been to the vet and she was on medication which seemed to be helping her feel better. She seemed to be rallying and I thought OK, she’s going to be all right. Unfortunately this was not to be. On Friday night, all of a sudden she wouldn’t eat and was listless. I was able to get an appointment to take her to the vet the next morning. Since we were under Covid restrictions, I couldn’t go into the office with her so I’m talking to the vet by phone as I waited in the car. I could tell by her voice that she didn’t think Ella was going to recover but honestly I just couldn’t make the decision to let her go talking to someone over the phone. And I didn’t want to let her go without being able to hold her. My vet was able to give her fluids and some meds to make her comfortable and I took her home. She slept the entire rest of the day on my lap. When there was no improvement and she wouldn’t eat on Sunday, I knew that I needed to let her go. It was such a hard decision. My little girl was only 11 years old. On Monday I called the vet and in tears asked what my options were.

    As you mentioned, I didn’t want to cause Ella more stress by putting her in the car and the dilemma was still the same. I didn’t want to let her go unless I could hold her. They recommended a group of vets who did at home care such as this and I called and made the appointment. It was a really difficult call to make. I cried through the entire conversation. Everyone on the staff was wonderful. Ella and I had 2 more days together and when it was time, as with your Dr. Boos, the vet who came to my home was so caring and compassionate. Ella left me but thanks to the help of my vet for the recommendation and the caring vet who came to my home, we were together at the end.

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