The very thought of it fills every pet owner with a deep sense of dread: that inevitable day when they’ll have to let their ailing furry companion go.
But some mobile veterinary practices in the Triangle are making those end-of-life transitions a little easier for owners and animals alike. Veterinary hospice care is a growing specialty that means at-home care and euthanasia for sick animals, sparing pets and their people the added anxiety of a trip to the vet during an already stressful time.
At-home care for pets is not a new concept. But the majority of pet owners still use brick-and-mortar clinics whose vets can’t leave their practices on a moment’s notice to provide home end-of-life care.
That’s where specialized veterinarians such as Dr. Dana Lewis of Morrisville and Dr. Jennifer Frey of Raleigh come in.
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Lewis, who practiced in local small animal clinics for 14 years, said the transition to animal hospice care has been a good one for her.
“I’ve always been drawn to geriatric care and end-of-life care,” she said. “And this just seemed like a natural progression.”
Lewis works for Lap of Love, a company based in South Florida that now has about 25 mobile vets who practice in six states.
“I think a lot of people just really appreciate having that as an option,” Lewis said. “The owner doesn’t want cold and clinical, and they don’t want to be sobbing in a strange environment. This way they get to have the experience they want for their pet and for their family.”
Lewis says she’s even attended to animals in home situations where absent family members have been Skyped in from out of state or out of the country.
Frey, whose practice is called Peaceful Passing, said the nature of this type of specialty can take an emotional toll, but that it’s ultimately rewarding.
“As difficult as my job is, I actually do wish I’d started it sooner, because I do see that benefit for all involved, for my patients and their families,” she said.
How it works
Both Lewis and Frey often start out with a consultation visit. Sometimes, the animals they meet aren’t quite ready to go. That’s where the at-home palliative care comes in.
“If it’s a hospice situation,” Lewis said, “I can sometimes make more quality time for the family with treatments like IV fluids, pain and nausea medications, or appetite stimulants.”
Sometimes, she said, just making small adjustments to an arthritic dog’s environment can mean extra, quality weeks for the dog and the family.
Both vets work on an on-call basis, making themselves available on evenings, weekends and holidays. Mobile service costs more than a trip to a traditional vet’s office, but clients rarely balk at the cost, Frey said.
In-home euthanasia usually starts around $200, compared to $50-$100 in a regular clinic or about $170 in an after-hours emergency clinic. After-care services, such as cremation, are extra.
Kristin Topps of Raleigh found Lewis through her vet when her 13-year-old lab mix, Chloe, became critical over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Chloe had arthritis and cancer, so it was difficult for her to get around, and she was in a lot of pain,” Topps said. “So the last thing I wanted was to load her up and take her somewhere.”
Topps called her family, who came over to be with them. “It was just so peaceful to have her be at home where she was comfortable and familiar.”
Another client, Jessie Drosin of Fuquay-Varina, agreed. When her 11-year-old black lab Zulu was nearing the end, she consulted with Lewis, who made Zulu comfortable at home for two months before Drosin had to make the final call.
“It was so hard, that anything that makes it easier, I’d recommend,” Drosin said.