Demand is growing for pet home-hospice care and euthanasia at home, yet only a few vets in the UK provide this specialized service. Melanie Whitehouse investigates.When the end finally came for Kruger, a smoky tortoiseshell rescue cat, her owners had no doubt who to turn to. Vets2Home - recently relaunched by vet Susan Gregersen as a 24/7 end-of-life home-hospice and euthanasia service - had previously helped 19-year-old Kruger through thyroid and liver problems.But 18 months later the elderly cat was refusing to eat food containing her thyroid tablets, and the sad decision was made by her owners, after discussing the situation with Susan, not to force her to take further medication."Kruger had always loved her food, so when she stopped eating we knew it was serious," says owner Jay Parmar, from Saltdean, East Sussex. "
"As soon as we booked the appointment it was as if Kruger breathed a big sigh of relief. In our last week together, her body started to pack up but we felt she was thanking us for saying she could go. On the last night we slept with Kruger, taking it in turns to look after her.
"Usually she would hide from Susan but that final day - October 25, 2013 - she greeted her and then walked round the room looking at all her favourite places before settling down in the corner of the window sill. Susan then administered the final injection straight into her side - Kruger was so bony that to try to inject into a leg would have hurt her. It was painless and quick - she had passed in 15 seconds.
"There was no trauma and it was all so calm, and very beautiful, actually. We put her in a little box that we'd decorated, but before we took her to the crematorium, and after consulting Susan, we brought in our tabby, Samson, so he had closure too. He sniffed her and Susan said: 'He knows'.
"Vets2Home offers a fantastic service on many, many levels. We were so grateful that we'd had a chance to give Kruger a great life but she also had a very beautiful final journey, without pain and in peace, at home with the people who loved her."
Vet Susan Gregersen and veterinary nurse Alex Gravett started Vets2Home in Sussex in 2005. It began as a mobile veterinary service, but after more than 6,000 home visits, Susan decided to dedicate her practice to end-of-life home-hospice care and euthanasia.
"We decided to specialize because we had learned from seven years of home visits that the often intense care and unhurried attention needed at the end of life is best given at home by a personal vet available 24/7," she explains.
"Cats can often be upset by being moved or having to travel in a car, particularly if they are in pain or have a nervous disposition. We aim to ensure that the last transition is completely calm and free from worry and pain for both owners and pet."
Vets2Home's end-of-life palliative care includes treatment and tailormade medication plans, plus advice and guidance by phone, email or home visit, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Prices start at £125 for a visit and consultation, and the two-step euthanasia programme, which usually includes a gentle, pain-free sedative prior to the final injection, is £150.
Vets2Home also transport pets to an accredited pet crematorium and collect and return the ashes.
Animal home-hospice care is an old idea that has recently been revived in the United States. "It is the best way to give a pet individual treatment in a comfortable setting and familiar environment," Susan explains. "Owners play an important part in a pet hospice situation, and care focuses on pain control and comfort for the animal, as well as 24-hour advice and support for the family. It's a pet-friendly, stay-at-home alternative to hospital procedures, investigations and further tests."
Sadly, Susan has had many requests to put down a pet that still enjoys life. "Fear and worry are the number one reasons people choose euthanasia too early, but they may miss out on the intimate and emotionally healing process of final stage care for their pets, which is something Jay and Bindi really treasured," adds Susan.
"Although owners may hope their cat will go in his or her sleep, this almost never happens. I believe the right time is when your cat - and you - lose the joy in your life together. Those reasons may vary, from not eating, or eating excessively but with severe weight loss, to vocalizing, pain, hiding, soiling inappropriately, and sleeping a lot or not at all. These are all various versions of what I call 'catzheimers', which make your cat a completely different 'person'.
"The one last gesture of love we should show our cats is a calm, respectful end, without stress, pain or suffering, when it is most needed - but not before. That goodbye should be at home, surrounded by loved ones, familiar smells and sounds - and in that favourite warm spot."