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Economic Euthanasia On the Rise

By Jessica Tremayne

Euthanasia can be the last act of love an owner shows her pet once disease or time has made death a greater comfort than life. This is the euthanasia veterinarians can accept and perform guilt-free.

But now euthanasia has taken on a new and unsettling meaning for some veterinarians’ clients. Economic euthanasias are occurring at higher frequencies in practices where the community has been hit hard by the down economy.

An increase in euthanasia performed when treatment is medically feasible leaves veterinarians to question how they can remain financially stable while helping clients and patients get what they need.

The logic behind clients’ reasoning for pet euthanasia can be colorful, and veterinarians might question if they could have said something different to change the owner’s decision. But they are in a tough position when the treatment option is eliminated because of the cost.

“We are seeing more euthanasias now than ever,” says Terry McInnis, office manager at After Hours Animal Emergency Clinic in Youngstown, Ohio. “The worst part is more clients are taking their pets home to die when they’re in need of treatment.”

The After Hours clinic takes emergency visits for general practitioners on their off hours and on weekends. Since every animal examined at the practice needs urgent care, the specialty practice has had a higher incidence of euthanasia than a typical small-animal practice, but even that number has increased.

"One of the most challenging moments in veterinary medicine is helping owners decide if euthanasia is right for their pet."
~ Dell Rae Mollenberg, Colorado State University

“The stop-treatment figure has changed dramatically,” says Patty Khuly, VMD, of Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami. “The bottom 20 percent of my clients are less likely to treat than in the past. I haven’t been performing more euthanasias than usual, but I see it coming.

“My clients’ lack of preventive medicine and lack of treatment for in-need pets will catch up with them. Come talk to me about a year from now and the effects of economic euthanasia will be obvious.”

No national tracking of euthanasia exists, but vets, humane organizations and industry officials say they have noted an increase.

Humane agencies and shelters have taken the brunt of the economic euthanasia burden. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 3 million to 4 million animals are euthanized annually in the U.S. Those numbers are expected to rise in 2009.

“In time of economic need, the euthanasia count always increases in practices and shelters,” says Richard Bachman, DVM, a shelter veterinarian for HSUS who serves on the leadership council of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Assn.

“People’s top reasons for leaving their pets at a shelter are having to move and being unable to care for the animal. The abandoned animal rate is increasing, especially in house foreclosures. It’s a tough time for veterinarians and their staff, mentally and emotionally, to deal with medically unnecessary euthanasia.”

The American Animal Hospital Assn. advises that clients be encouraged to invest in pet health insurance. This can help minimize the more expensive and unexpected costs.

AAHA spokesman Jason Merrihew says the organization is working to raise owner awareness of financial assistance and pet insurance.

“We have been providing grant money to owners through the AAHA Helping Pets Fund, but we have had to temporarily suspend the grants due to depletion of funds,” he says. “Since November 2008 the number of requests for funding has tripled. We have helped more than 3,000 pets receive needed care through more than $800,000 in grants.”

Only about 3 percent of the 154 million U.S. pet owners have pet health insurance, according to industry averages. The figure is much higher in the United Kingdom—30 to 50 percent.

“I think U.S. pet owners have a hangup with insurance in general,”says Janet Tobiassen, DVM, who writes about veterinary medicine on “Encouraging your clients to use pet insurance can help meet the emotional and financial needs for everyone. In addition to offering your best medical advice, you need to make yourself available to clients so they can discuss their needs with you.”

Most clients don’t prepare for the worst scenario until it’s sitting in their lap, some vets say.

“As a vet you can refuse to perform healthy euthanasias, and that may deter clients from making an unnecessary euthanasia decision,” says Nancy Kay, DVM, the author of “Speaking for Spot.” “Compiling a list of client financial assistance programs can be helpful, too.”

Clinics also can set up emergency funds. Clients who have been fortunate in the current economy may be more generous than usual.

“I have been seeing a lot more donations for my needy patients than in the past,” says Dr. Khuly, a Veterinary Practice News columnist. “I’ve had more donations in the past 12 months than I had collectively over a 10-year span. Recently, a client donated $500 to help another client’s cat that had a horribly broken leg and needed amputation. It’s nice to see acts of kindness. It’s sad, but in cases like this one, euthanasia would have been the only other humane option.”

Surviving these economic times can be a challenge mentally and emotionally for veterinarians, but organizations throughout the industry have come through with advice and money in many cases.

Colorado State University’s Argus Institute is offering a printed guide to help veterinarians support clients making tough euthanasia decisions.

“One of the most challenging moments in veterinary medicine is helping owners decide if euthanasia is right for their pet,” says Dell Rae Mollenberg, who works in public relations at CSU. “Each section of the guide describes the emotional process they’ll go through and offers help with decision making.”

The guide—“What Now? Support for You and Your Companion Animal”—is available for $3. Click here to request a sample. <HOME>

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Economic Euthanasia On the Rise

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Reader Comments
Most vets are more animal lovers than most people but lose sight of the fact that an animal is not a human. A person is not obligated to treat more than regular preventative care and vet bills for diagnosis and reasonable, limited time frame treatment with reasonably price medications with have a high probability of success, pain management, and if necessary, euthanasia. These new procedures these days, blood transfusions, dental cleanings, organ transplants! Darth Vader would be impressed what they do for animals to keep them alive these days.
Andy, Menomenee Falls, WI
Posted: 8/20/2012 11:11:52 PM
I have found , as a multiple pet household, that veterinary fees have increased greatly and a routine appointment costs nearly $200. My 14 year old dog had a heart attack in front of us, and we were going through an extreme financial hardship do to an accident that disabled my husband for 6 months ,instead of trying to treat our dog, we were referred to a cardiologist who wanted to run an Doppler echo cardiogram for $350. Then we'd have to pay for follow up appointments and the drugs. I would have been willing to try the meds 1st,. I know that this may seem careless, but my dog was 14 and probably going to die shortly anyway, and it would have been a cheaper alternative for us. We had always taken really good care - to the point of thousands of dollars-for our dog and to have to have him euthanized that day broke my heart, but it was a financial decision I had to make because vet care is so needlessly expensive now , when other options might have been available.

Needless test and treatments are being recommended because it's a business now. Like the vet who recommended a $3000 kidney transplant for my 15 year old cat who had kidney failure!!

Maybe if vets had more reasonable fees then there would be less financial euthanasia. I really like my vet, but I am the one who always has to ask is there a more conservative,cheaper treatment every time I go there.
RW, San Pedro, CA
Posted: 7/4/2012 12:11:24 PM
I think it's sickening that the veterinary community charges so much to euthanize a pet-it feels like you're being taken advantage of at your worst moment-making the decision to do right for your beloved pet to end any future suffering. If I was a vet this would be the time I'd give people a break; for the love of the animals. Sometimes I question what vets love more-helping animals or the money.
Kathy, Bloomington, IL
Posted: 2/25/2011 6:53:36 PM
...I am scandalized that it is less expensive to treat the symptoms of my suffering cancer ridden cat than it is to put her down. I made the decision yesterday to do it, and ended up bolting from the exam room, with my cat, angry as hell. I chose a place that I hadn’t been to in years, as it was closer than the place I was taking her and I remember that they never had a wait. I was taken to a room with a buzzing annoying light, told that it would be 170.00, which shocked me. They informed me that the only thing they needed to do was weigh the cat for dosage. They were not going to need my proof of her having cancer, nor would they need to assess her. I was kept waiting despite the lack of any other clients. I could here the vet yammering away in the back room about her car payments and personal life for thirty minutes. After thirty minutes of waiting, my cat started to panic at the buzzing sound, and I realized that I could take her to my ultra-expensive vet in Westwood and get her a kitty enema for less money, but then I wouldn't have enough to euthanize and cremate her when the time came, as I am out of work for over of a year now and they last of my money went to diagnosing her cancer. to figure out if chemotherapy was an option (it isn’t in her case).

I left and called every place within a ten mile radius of my home, and can not find a vet that charges less than 140.00. Most quoted me much more. This rise in the cost of euthanasia is a response to an economic downturn because the vet in my area that provides the most expensive treatment (VCA), has the wealthiest cliental, and is staffed with feline oncology specialists, happens to be the most reasonable price for putting my cat to sleep. For what I pay, I am given a a priority in the queue, a private grievance room with warm temperature and pleasant surroundings. Yet the vets that have less staff, cheaper rent, fewer clients and can not coerce people into spending on cytological analysis, are the ones who are jacking up the rates, and explaining that by law they have to “examine her”. The price for euthanizing animals shouldn’t vary, and it should be kept as low as the price of the medication with a low-cost office visit. After all, when you have reams of medical records indicating a cats is terminal, it is kind of a no-brainer and all your medical training is not really being put to use. Charge for your time, not your education and not your lifestyle.

It doesn’t serve vets anymore than it does clients to adjust rates higher because you notice a trend in spending for that service. It won’t deter owners from abandoning care when they are broke, people will just do regrettable acts, like dumping pets in parks. I see that all the time in Los Angeles. My cats (3) are all old and the cost of their car is increasing as their health fails. The money I spend euthanizing my cat could be spent caring for the others. That is a shame, and it is also your loss.
Jennifer, Los Angeles, CA
Posted: 11/23/2010 12:32:43 PM
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