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Dealing with animal death and euthanasia is a major part of veterinary practice, with social and emotional consequences that can sometimes be considerable for clients and veterinarians (Shaw and Lagoni 2007, Morris 2012, Witte and others 2013). Compared with end-of-life (EOL) studies in human medicine, relatively little research has been directed towards investigating either vets' or clients' experiences; that which has been done has been predominantly US-based, and has highlighted a number of potential concerns. For example, a North American survey of clients who had experienced the death of a pet found 30 per cent reporting severe grief reactions, and approximately 50 per cent indicating worries about whether the timing of euthanasia had been appropriate (Adams and others 2000). This same study found that those clients who had positive perceptions of their vet as caring and professional reported significantly fewer negative emotional reactions to their pet's death (Adams and others 2000; see also Fernandez-Mehler and others 2013). Many veterinarians themselves place great importance on their role as care-givers in the context of pet death (eg Morris 2012). However, studies of veterinary students and recent graduates in the USA have found that they often do not feel competent or comfortable delivering bad news or talking about euthanasia (Tinga and others 2001), and many believe that veterinary schools should place more emphasis on communication skills for dealing with owners of terminally ill patients (Dickinson and others 2011).
The present survey sought to establish a current overview of British vets' experiences of euthanasia and EOL care, and their opinions regarding whether veterinary training left them well equipped to communicate with clients when their animals are dying or being euthanased. The questionnaire used a structured …