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Providing a Continuum of Care

    • 149 posts
    July 26, 2020 3:46 PM EDT

    A new puppy or kitten visit provides veterinary caregivers an opportunity of a lifetime. Literally. That first appointment is an opportunity to establish a partnership with the client to provide care through the lifetime of their new animal companion. When you think about it, that's a huge responsibility and it includes educating a client about the essentials to disease prevention (e.g. wellness exams and preventative care measures) as well as financial tools that can help pet owners manage the costs of that care over the lifetime of that pet. If we blow the opportunity and fail to establish a meaningful connection with that client, we stand to lose out on an income-producing opportunity (for years to come) and perhaps even worse, a client without someone partnered to ensure the best possible care for their animal.

    New puppy or kitten “packages” or wellness plans that bundle essentials such as vaccinations, endo- and ecto- parasite prevention or management, and preventative dental care help us to guide and support our clients in caring for their pets in healthy, happy times. At the end of life, however, we know that many veterinary practices miss the mark in guiding and ensuring a continuum of care for pets and their owners. 

    As an animal approaches the end of its life – whether naturally due to age or associated with a chronic or terminal illness – there are many opportunities for veterinary professionals to provide guidance, support, and to prepare clients for a good end-of-life experience (both for the client and the animal patient). A bad end-of-life or euthanasia experience can lead to client attrition. One statistic I’ve heard is that around 20% of clients will not return to a veterinarian with another pet after having a euthanasia experience that’s left them feeling angry or upset.

    I recently read the Pet Loss Best Practice Guidelines for Veterinary Teams (June 2020) published by Seneca College's Social Service Worker and Veterinary Technician Programs in collaboration with VCA Canada and funded by Seneca Innovation. They studied the client experience with veterinary teams during their pet's end of life. The project involved client surveys, a literature review on the pet loss experience in the context of veterinary practice responses, and interviews with industry experts. The purpose of this project was to establish Best Practice Guidelines to strengthen the industry's capacity to respond to clients' needs.

    "The strongest memories for a client are typically their first and last day with their pet.” This sentence – included in the Guidelines document - resonated with me personally and I took pause to contemplate that further.  While most veterinary professionals are not party to that “first” day, we are party to most “last” days of that relationship. As such, we are privileged to be entrusted by pet families to care for their animal companions during this time and we have a tremendous responsibility to provide for the best death experience possible.

    So how can veterinary practices ensure a continuum of care at the end of life? We do a pretty good job in early life with wellness plans and promotion of preventive care measures. How can veterinary practices raise the bar on the back end and do death well?

    I’ve been delighted to work with people involved in end of life care, training in euthanasia best practices, and in pet loss and grief support. I am especially proud of the work that VetVine is doing to support veterinary colleagues who are committed to learning more in these areas and in elevating the end of life experience that they provide in their practices:

    • The Human-Animal Bond Program – approved for up to 8 hours of CE credit by AAVSB RACE and NY state can be viewed at no charge and compliments of our Sponsors including ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, BioResponse Solutions, Euthabag, and CAETA.

    • VetVine’s Virtual Pet Loss and Grief Support Service is a resource for clients experiencing anticipatory grief or grieving the loss of their animal companion.  We are proudly partnering with veterinary and pet care professionals to serve as an extension of their practice or business to provide this important support and to ensure a continuum of care. Contact Us to learn more about how your practice or business can partner with VetVine in this regard.