Deceased Pet Care; Beyond the basics for ideal pet owner support

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To go beyond the basics, we’d best start with them so everyone is on the same page.
For generations, the go-to plan at most vet hospitals has been the following…
~ Pet owner chooses euthanasia
~ Hospital asks if they want private or communal cremation
~ Pet passes, owner departs
~ Hospital places the pet in a cadaver transport bag with pet ID
~ Hospital calls crematory to pick up
~ Crematory returns ashes to the hospital or spreads them off site on the owner’s behalf

Now there will be variations to this all the time, but for the most part this is the routine. And it’s hard to break routine; to consider another approach that may be better suited to both pet owner, vet team, and crematory. I myself like progressive thinking and have been exploring an alternative approach for years. It hasn’t been hard to find others who would appreciate an upgrade to deceased pet care, although getting the whole of the veterinary and pet aftercare industries on board has proven more substantial.

One of CAETA’s 14 Essential Components is the assistance with body care. Preplanning can be done early, even months before the pending loss if possible. This provides time for families to do some research into how they want to care for their pet after death, including choosing which crematory they want to work with. During the euthanasia veterinary visit, the staff aligns with the family’s request, and if the family needs direction, the staff can guide them based on what they feel is right. Currently, this is standard practice as shown in this study, however there is likely to come a time when the family must make the decisions on their own without guidance from the veterinary team [similar to human medicine].

Ethical Aftercare Recommendations, taken from a 2020 study:
Dissemination of Information
~Take the time needed to address owners’ aftercare concerns and options (typically 5-20 minutes)
~ Ask owners if they have a preferred crematory/cemetery and respect their decisions (If owners have no preference, present a choice of local pet aftercare options)
~ Provide written explanations of aftercare services/offerings including cost considerations (e.g., aftercare company brochures, website links)
~ Utilize proper forms (e.g., crematory authorization, burial forms, etc.) to reduce liability risk and increase transparency

Procedures
~ Follow pet owners’ choices closely
~ Use respectful, designated cadaver bags or containers (e.g., caskets, shrouds) in-line with state mandates
~ Perform procedures with due diligence (e.g., procedural checklist, use technology to track body, etc.) to prevent mistakes (Properly label bodies immediately, i.e., within 30 minutes of appointment completion. Submit pet information to aftercare companies as soon as possible, i.e., within 1 hour. Ensure pet bodies leave the hospital with proper labeling and instructions)
~ Partnering with aftercare companies (Visit local pet aftercare facilities annually to familiarize yourself with their offerings and policies and ensure they meet industry standards.
Encourage aftercare companies to:
•Provide emotional assistance to pet owners (i.e., grief support facilities for visitations/services, etc.)
•Obtain bodies as quick as possible (e.g., within 24 hours)
•Demonstrate high quality body handling standards (i.e., proper containment and cleanliness; respectful conduct with or without owners present)
•Play an active role in pet owner education and preplanning

The goal with all of this is to increase transparency with pet owners and help them to feel empowered with decision-making. This should minimize regret and improve mental health during the mourning period. For years, I have watched the impact this has on my own clients and wish I had started it sooner. And if we can get to the model where families are in more direct contact with the pet crematories who in my opinion can serve them best, it’s worth striving for.

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Dr. Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, DACAW resident Founder, Senior Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy