Exploring veterinary professionals' management and pet owners' experiences of companion animal euthanasia
When a companion animal dies, it is commonplace for pet owners to grieve their loss as they would a family member. The care provided by veterinary professionals can either assist in alleviating or exacerbating a pet owners’ grief, as well as impact the wellbeing of the veterinary professional. Despite increasing recognition of these impacts, research and education into the most effective way of managing companion animal end-of-life care is presently limited. This research consisted of two sequential studies. The first study sought to better understand the management and impacts of companion animal end-of-life care and euthanasia on veterinary professionals. The second study explored pet owners’ experiences, expectations, satisfaction and grief following companion animal euthanasia. Both studies involved the use of in-depth interviews analyzed using thematic analysis which assisted in informing the development of online questionnaire tools, data from which were analyzed using descriptive statistics and multivariable regression modelling. Findings indicated that through the use of bond-centered practices, participating veterinary professionals aimed to support the emotional needs and comfort of the pet owners and their companion animals, and to provide the companion animal with a “good death.” When successful in reaching these intentions, veterinary professionals reported experiencing an improved sense of wellbeing, with the alternative being experienced when they felt unsuccessful. Participating pet owners reported high levels of satisfaction with their euthanasia experience and felt their experiences impacted their ability to cope with the loss of their companion animal. Their satisfaction with the administrative practices, emotional support, follow-up care, and care for their animal’s remains were found to be positively associated with their overall satisfaction. Their grief was found to be negatively associated with the number of previous euthanasia experiences and positively associated with the strength of the human-animal bond and if the euthanasia was emergent or sudden. The findings of this research have both clinical and educational implications and highlight the need for veterinary professionals to consider and tailor their supportive care to the individual circumstances of pet owners and their companion animals, and the need for better education of veterinary professionals on navigating end-of-life care and euthanasia decision making.