Receiving Phone Calls About Euthanasia; CSRs – this one’s for you

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As a receptionist or customer service representative (CSR), picking up the phone to discover a client is making their pet’s euthanasia appointment can be difficult. For one, you may be caught off guard, and secondly, it’s simply a tough conversation. You may have clients standing next to you in the front office able to hear the conversation (awkward at the very least), or maybe you are having an emotionally hard day to begin with. At this moment, you know the caller is making one of the most difficult phone calls of their life. Your demeanor makes all the difference and CAETA wants to help you get it right.

Here are some ideas to support veterinary phone staff scheduling euthanasia appointments.

Consider a euthanasia phone line
What if your veterinary hospital had a designated line for clients scheduling a euthanasia appointment? How might this help in your ability to pick up the phone in a compassionate, prepared manner? Knowing that euthanasia is among the most common veterinary appointment types, it stands to reason that many incoming calls will be related to the need. Instead of fielding all calls with a cheerful, bright voice, a designated EOL phone line provides the staff the chance to tone things down in a gentler and more compassionate way from the start. 

A hospital can select a phone line for EOL callers. When callers dial the main hospital number, the phone tree gives them options. “If you are calling related to your pet’s end-of-life needs, please press 3.” The caller presses 3 and a kind voice comes through ready to address euthanasia or hospice requests. How wonderful for clients to be greeted in a quiet and respectful manner.

Get names and other important details using open-ended questions
Open-ended questions lay the foundation for sharing thoughts and feelings. They help the client express the circumstances of the call and allow the receptionist to begin gathering necessary information for the veterinary team. The phone staff begins with gratitude, empathy statements, praise, and well-placed open-ended questions. The following 3 examples demonstrate the different types of approaches to the start of the conversation, based on varying levels of information shared by the client at the call’s onset.

Example one: “We are so glad you called and are honored to be caring for you.” (pause) “What is your pet’s name? And what is your name? Tell me more about what’s been going on and your goals for an appointment.”

Example two: “Your voice tells me how hard this call is to make. I’m here to listen and support your family the best I can.” (pause) “What is your name?  And what is your pet’s name? It sounds like you are interested in scheduling a euthanasia appointment. When you are ready, please share more about your family’s plans so far.”

Example three: “It is good that you called. It sounds like Millie has had a rough night with her cancer.” (pause) “What is your name? How is Millie doing right now? What else can you tell me about her condition and your wishes for peaceful euthanasia?”

Once basic information about the pet’s condition has been learned, phone staff can begin collecting appointment information. They can ask the following:
~ “Where do you prefer euthanasia to be carried out…in the home or here in the hospital?”
~ “When would you like to schedule?”
~ “Who will be by your side during the service?” or “What family members will be  

Valued recordkeeping for your team
Your conversations with the client around end-of-life are equally important to other medical appointments. Capturing valuable information during the phone call supports consistency in the service, especially when it is shared with the team. Increasing euthanasia information in medical records is a growing trend for good reason.(1) The more the team knows about the decisions leading up to the appointment, what’s important to the client, and ways to improve patient comfort, the better the experience will be. (2)

The CSR can relay information related to the patient’s pain, anxiety, eating, and sleeping patterns. They can explain the client’s expression of anxiety, grief, and comfort (or discomfort) with the decision to euthanize. In fact, the CSR can record any and all information they feel is relevant to the team’s preparation, including a preset list of questions the team develops to gather the information they find relevant.

During the appointment, appropriate euthanasia consents are signed. Ideally, this form is reviewed and understood beforehand, including payment options and aftercare wishes. In this way, at the time of the appointment, the veterinary team can focus on tending to the patient and client, being fully present to support their needs. 

Providing grief support
Even if the client sounds stable and stoic on the phone and the family has been through euthanasia before, if time permits, send them pet loss resources. There may be children in the family experiencing their first loss of a beloved pet and/or family members may be going through anticipatory grief (sadness felt before the death of the pet). Now may be a good time to initiate the ideas in loss and grief support, and normalize the conversations.

  1. Pet loss, grief support, and aftercare resources may be posted on the practice’s website for easy referencing. In vet med, this is uncommon but very important.(3) Want to give your practice a leg up on end-of-life support? Place this type of valuable information on your website, including what to expect during pet euthanasia.
  1. Place an envelope in the mail with pet loss literature/brochure for a touching and informative gesture of support. Electronic versions can be easily sent via email or text.   
  1. Layer on the empathy during the conversations. Make sure the client calling knows you care and that they are in good hands with your staff. They want to know they are safe and loved through such an emotional time.

With these few tips, CSR receptionists should feel better prepared in scheduling a euthanasia appointment. This is just the beginning, as there are many more ways in which to make end-of-life services compassionate and thoughtful. You are encouraged to learn more through CAETA’s courses in client communications and team support. Click here to receive a $30.00 savings coupon when registering for the Certified Peaceful Euthanasia Professional (CPEP) courses. 

Thank you for taking a keen interest in your client’s end-of-life experience and your professional development. 


  1. Gray, C. & Radford, A. (2022) Using electronic health records to explore negotiations around euthanasia decision making for dogs and cats in the UK. Veterinary record. [Online] 190 (9), no-no.
  2. Cooney, K. A. (2022) Importance of documenting euthanasia decision‐making processes in patients’ medical records. Veterinary record. [Online] 190 (9), 364–366.
  3. Kogan, L. (2021) Mention the Unmentionables. Today’s Veterinary Business. Accessed March 27, 2024.

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Rebecca Rose, RVT

Rebecca Rose, RVT, is a credentialed leader in the veterinary community with experience managing clinics, collaborating with industry partners, authoring articles and books, and facilitating engaging team workshops. The former NAVTA president's enthusiasm for professional development in veterinary medicine is contagious. She encourages and supports veterinary teams in reaching their highest potential to maintain a healthy, sustainable life and career.

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