Outdoor Pet Euthanasia; Special considerations

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The warmer months bring a lovely opportunity to gather outside for companion animal euthanasia services, and this includes animals that already live outside like companion livestock. Owners appreciate the option to be closely connected to nature as their pet departs this earth.  Grassy yards, sandy beaches, mountain tops…you name it.  They have a real appeal to them. I have euthanized almost every pet of my own outdoors, choosing only to be indoors if that’s where my pet was more comfortable or the weather forced it.  Being outdoors has a unique set of considerations to address, but with the right attention to detail, can be very memorable and special.

Let’s consider the weather first.  It can be the most unpredictable and disrupt a lovely setting.  Carefully pick times when being outside is safest. Temperatures over 80F can cause physical stress for dying patients, maybe even less for those in significant distress already, e.g. dyspnea including laryngeal paralysis, fever.  Hot temps lead to excessive panting and make it hard for pets to relax.  Years ago I helped a dog outside in my memorial garden that was very overweight and panting when it arrived.  My client expressed how important it was to be outside with her dog with the dog lying on her chest, and I said yes even though I was worried about the heat and lack of shade. The dog struggled to get comfortable and I had to rush through the procedure more than I would have liked due to him overheating. It wasn’t my favorite appointment. If too cold, pets may be shivering and look afraid of death which is not desirable either.  Either extreme will tend to unintentionally rush the appointment, reducing the quality of the goodbye.  Rain and wind are also tricky. Modern euthanasia best practices have us scheduling appointments 45-60 minutes in length.  Much can change during that time so be ever watchful. Think about what you need for protection.

Another factor to consider are bugs, wildlife, and other animals nearby.  There are times when other creatures are welcomed.  I’ve had clients rejoice when ladybugs and dragonflies came around, as if a sign that someone is looking out for them. Birds singing can be charming as well as deer and livestock softly munching on grass.  I’ve had appointments where chickens were walking around pecking at my supplies, happy to be included in the farewell moment for the family dog. For the most part, as long as these creatures are being ‘respectful’ and not obtrusive, people seem to like having them close.  What we want to avoid are mosquito storms, snake surprises, and anything loud or smelly.  

Public places can be challenging due to look-e-loos, cars driving by, and people in general with their own agendas.  My first home euthanasia experience was in the front yard of our house underneath the aspen tree. That’s where my husband wanted to gather, even though it was next to the sidewalk and street in a busy college town.  For the most part, we were able to block out the activity around us, until one person walked by to comment on what a pretty dog we had and then to ask what was wrong with him.  He had just died and that proved very hard to explain, especially to someone out on an innocent walk. With pet owners wanting to be in highly visible places, it’s important to discuss possible intrusions and breaks in the flow of the appointment.  As long as everyone understands the risk, and you are allowed to euthanize in public places (not all communities are – check with your local government), proceed with caution.

Another outdoor consideration is the risk of patient disappearance.  If the animal is mobile and wishes to head off in the other direction, they may be hard to find thus delaying the procedure.  Even those with significant suffering and mobility issues may not want to be where you’ve chosen to gather.  Think about what’s best for them at that moment, and if being exposed outdoors is not what they want, reconsider to somewhere else or quickly give the pre-euthanasia sedatives to relax them.  This can also be done ahead of time indoors, then bring them outside once they are sleeping.

Outdoor Pet Euthanasia Preparation Tips

  1. When possible, take care of paperwork needs before going outside.
  2. Keep pets closeby, on leash or in their cages for safety until ready to proceed.
  3. Gather where you have overhead protection/shade.
  4. Bring water outside on hot days, for both human and pet.
  5. Have Kleenex, towels, blankets, and all medical supplies with you.
  6. Give pre-euthanasia anesthesia medications rather than sedation.
  7. Keep a stretcher nearby to move large deceased pets indoors.
  8. Consider insect repellent.
  9. Have a backup location ready.

If you are thinking about building an outdoor space/memorial garden to hold euthanasias, you have lots of fun things to contemplate; flowers, water features, statues, seating areas, etc. The idea is to create an outdoor sanctuary, no matter how small, for families to gather and forget about the rest of the world for a while. There is a growing trend in Europe and the US to build sensory gardens around veterinary hospitals, animal shelters, and euthanasia centers. Sensory gardens are designed for one family and pet at a time to spend quality time together, without fear and forced interaction with other pets.  They are quiet reflective places and perfect for euthanasia.  

Regardless of where you gather, control the elements you can control and forgive the ones you cannot.  

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Dr. Kathleen Cooney

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

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