Should We Charge for Pet Euthanasia Services?

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I recently read an opinion article where the author complained about having to pay for the euthanasia of their dog.  They claimed that since they had spent significant money at their regular vet office, the vet should be willing to perform the procedure at no cost.  This owner wanted a financial “thank you for all your years of trust in our veterinary practice, and now the last one’s on us”.  It’s not too far-fetched in a society that is very familiar with the ‘buy 10, get one free’ system.  It was interesting to read their take on why they shouldn’t have to pay and that vets should be making money on every other medical service just not euthanasia. My counter opinion is that euthanasia is a medical procedure that warrants payment, and that giving it away for free does more harm for the profession than good. Let’s think this one through.

It’s a nice thought to allow something so emotional as euthanasia to go uncharged.  It can feel icky to ask for money to those who are grieving, a bit like kicking the client when they are down.  This said, medical care be it human or animal will have both positive and negative outcomes. There is no rule that says you only have to pay for positive outcomes.  It is possible to be caring and still expect payment.  As a general rule, I imagine many vet hospitals would do more things at no cost if they could, however it’s not sustainable without a considerably-sized 501c3 donation model.

Veterinary practices have overhead expenses to fund, one of which is managing controlled substances. Every euthanasia procedure in the United States requires at least one controlled substance to be successful. It’s often more like 3-4 and they are expensive to understand, order, track and store.  The potential fines for doing it wrong are worth some payment alone.  It feels like the seriousness and subsequent cost of handling controlled substances is often overlooked. 

How much to charge for euthanasia is complicated.  The procedure contains far more elements than it used to, having evolved into a pseudo-funeral for pets.  What’s included in the modern pet euthanasia appointment?

  1. Expertise/pre-training by the veterinary staff
  2. Staff time (e.g. DVM, technicians, assistant)
  3. Comfort supplies such as blankets, water, tissue, food treats
  4. Medical supplies such as needles, syringes, clippers, extension sets
  5. Non-controlled and controlled drugs (by the Drug Enforcement Agency) kept in substantial protective safes
  6. Drug log books for reporting/tracking
  7. Memorialization items such as pet loss guide, paw prints and sympathy cards
  8. Online pet loss resources that must be monitored for accuracy
  9. Death notifications sent out to pet-related businesses (e.g. other vet offices who’ve seen the pet, groomers, licensing groups)
  10. Emergency scheduling/availability
  11. Body bag/container and cold storage
  12. Disinfection supplies and protocols

These components are the standard in many veterinary hospitals, plus there is the potential for special touches like donations made in the pet’s honor, art therapy kits and books for children, fresh flowers in the room, and traveling to the pet’s home for euthanasia.  Modern veterinary euthanasia comes with a cost that reflects what’s given to grieving clients and what’s needed to reduce pain and anxiety for the pet.  When we consider how euthanasia used to be carried out (rather rough and quick), payment these days feels even more justified. And clients are willing to pay, especially when they understand the value of what’s being done to meet their emotional needs and the needs of their pet. 

Veterinary euthanasia fees can range from $50 to $500 depending on what is provided, with the latter on the high end for premiere mobile euthanasia services in major metros. The hope is that the cost of euthanasia remains in line with what is provided, including what is needed to maintain the mental health of those providing it and keep personnel caught up with modern best practices. Veterinary teams may charge what they feel makes the most sense based on their internal expenses and delivery model. There is not a one-size-fits-all. Animal shelters on the other hand price euthanasia much lower, with the goal of covering the cost of drug and personnel time. In my opinion, having performed owner-requested euthanasias at local animal shelters, they are not charging enough to cover their basic costs, especially when you consider the high-turnover rate and the cost of hiring.

The big takeaway in all this is that regardless of what it costs and why, if one veterinary hospital performs euthanasia at no charge, it sets a precedence that can become expected by clients going forward. Clients often have more than one pet, and the odds are it will need to be euthanized.  If the first vet offered it for free, why didn’t the next one? Did the first vet care more for the client and patient more than the second?  The one who charges may be looked upon less favorably. It’s one thing if veterinary services will only be provided by one hospital for the duration of the pet’s life, with zero chance of needing care elsewhere but this is not realistic in modern times.  Clients move cities, the pet needs specialty care, and/or clients simply move from one hospital to another for whatever reason.  The tight one-on-one bond veterinarians and clients used to have in the last century has evolved.  It is highly probable that the veterinarian who first treated the pet as a puppy or kitten will not be the veterinarian who euthanizes.

What I’m unsure of is where the issue of charging really stems from. Is it the cost of the euthanasia or the principal of paying itself? My instinct is on the principal, and that those who feel euthanasia is worth paying for will pay it. I’ve received countless tips for performing a good euthanasia and even had one client donate over $2000 to help others afford the same care they did. That says a lot. So if it’s the principal of paying that’s the issue, perhaps our profession would do well to come together and signify that euthanasia is more valuable than just the dollar that’s attached to it.

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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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