Sadly, but often perhaps inevitably, there may come a time in your rabbit’s life, that you must take the difficult, heart-breaking decision to have them “put to sleep”, or euthanised. Just as with our larger dog and cat pets, an option exists for this process to happen at your home. The question we sometimes then hear from owners is, “is it significantly worth it?”
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Essentially, once you have decided upon euthanasia, broadly speaking, your options are to attend the clinic and be with your rabbit or elect for a home visit. Given the veterinary industry’s current and seemingly never-ending high workload, coupled with potential staff absences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the former option of attending the practice is likely to offer the greatest flexibility and availability of appointments. It may also offer the swiftest opportunity if circumstances dictate that your rabbit needs to be promptly seen.
Often practices will try to book in such consultations at quieter periods of the day; or as the last appointment of the morning or afternoon consulting session. This sympathetic approach hopefully allows for a quiet, calm and unrushed experience for you and your rabbit.
Clearly, if your rabbit is very unwell and has already been (and remains) currently hospitalised at the practice, attending there yourself to be with your pet would usually be considered preferable. The additional stress that might be created by moving your rabbit home in such circumstances would be undesirable; and potentially even unreasonable in terms of animal welfare.
Alternatively to attending the practice, a home visit can be scheduled (subject to availability). Personally, I do like this option, although it is clearly a very personal and individual choice. As vets we always endeavour, of course, to respect any one individual owner’s wishes.
Whether you wish to stay with your rabbit for the actual euthanasia procedure is of course, largely very much down to personal preference too. Whilst most owners may prefer to be present, for others the emotions and grief are too overwhelming. So they would rather remember their pet how they were in good health.
Experiences, personal preference and benefits
I know that from personal experience with my own pets, the benefits of at home euthanasia are multiple. I would always prefer this option if it were possible to be accommodated.
Why do I believe this? First and foremost, this is where your pet feels most safe and secure. This factor may be especially important with rabbits. Given they are a prey species and may feel increased anxiety and stress when brought into the veterinary clinic with its many smells and noises. Owners typically feel less fraught when in their own surroundings too. The home environment is familiar, non-clinical and always more comfortable. This allows family members to move around. It also allows family to leave the room discreetly should they feel the need to do so.
The actual process and procedures involved with euthanasia are likely to be similar in whichever environment you choose. Although different practices may have subtly different protocols. It would be recommended that you perhaps call and speak to one of the staff members in advance of the day. This will confirm the typical approach of your individual practice and perhaps prepare you somewhat better for the actual event. Receptionists and the veterinary nurses are experienced and kind. And often as pet owners themselves, they have reassuring words they can pass onto you.
In our practice, local anaesthetic cream applied to the skin of your rabbit’s ear(s) will gently, over 15-20 minutes, numb the skin. This allows for placement of an intravenous cannula within a peripheral ear vein. These steps may be performed in the triage or “prep” area of the practice. This is where the necessary equipment and staff are easily accessible. After this, when reunited with your rabbit and when you are ready to proceed, the euthanasia solution (a concentrated anaesthetic), will be administered through this cannula. This allows your rabbit to gently lose consciousness and pass away. Whilst we acknowledge this is an incredibly upsetting time, trying to stay strong and calmly speaking to and holding your rabbit is what we would recommend.
As mentioned above, one major yet simple limiting factor may be whether your veterinary surgery has the staff available to attend for a home visit. Realistically this may take a vet and a nurse out of the team and the rota, for an hour or more.
Having pre-booked a home visit appointment, with as much notice as is feasible, is likely to allow the practice to pre-plan their day and workload accordingly. However, veterinary professionals clearly appreciate that given the nature of the circumstances, this may not always be possible. Veterinary teams will always, in my experience, accommodate for home visits where they can. Failure to do so typically does not represent unwillingness to help, more rather a likely incredibly busy day with emergency and or critical care patients that need constant monitoring and attention at the practice. As with human medical care, our workload is frequently unpredictable.
Whilst it may not be of concern to some owners, unfortunately, the reality of a home visit is that of increased cost. This may sway the decision in certain circumstances for some owners.
And so, these are all factors to consider. Hopefully being prepared and asking questions to your practice ahead of the time, will allow you to contemplate your options. And decide whether at home euthanasia is right for you and your rabbit.