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.
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 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.”
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
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.