Investigator(s): Dr Carol Gray
The aim of this project was to examine the records of veterinary consultations to find out the reasons why euthanasia of companion animals (specifically, cats and dogs) may be delayed from the time of the initial discussion. The focus of the project was animals where euthanasia was required because of a life-limiting illness or age-related deterioration.
The project was important because delayed euthanasia was recognized as an overarching area of concern across all species from a previous AWF-funded project “Delphi Project – Expert consensus on animal welfare priority issues in the UK.” However, reasons for delayed euthanasia are difficult to research. End-of-life consultations in veterinary practice are sensitive and emotionally charged. Most prior research has involved interviews with clients after their animals have died to explore how they made decisions, or interviews with vets to find out what makes euthanasia stressful. Dr Gray wanted to find out if they could use consultation records (Electronic Health Records or EHRs) to demonstrate how decisions about euthanasia are made between vets and clients, and which factors may lead to a delay in the decision for euthanasia. SAVSNET was used to access EHRs.
Reasons identified for delayed euthanasia included client-related factors (for example, wanting to spend more time with the animal, or wishing to allow other family members to say goodbye) and vet-related factors (for example, wanting to try new treatment or investigations, or feeling that the animal’s quality of life was still good). Reassuringly, palliative treatment (usually pain-relieving drugs) was commonly provided by vets to protect animal welfare while awaiting a decision for euthanasia. However, there were no indications that ‘end-of-life’ care plans are used in veterinary practices in the UK, as they are in the USA. Overall, the study revealed that euthanasia decisions involve a process of negotiation between vet and client.
Gray feels more could be done to promote proper ‘hospice’ care for pets at the end of life, drawing on expertise from those vets who currently offer palliative care services and from overseas.
In terms of further work, it would be useful in the future to carry out a similar study on equine consultations, as the equine equivalent of SAVSNET is in the early stages of development.