Veterinary Hospice Care: A Commitment to Compassion
Those of us lucky enough to have a senior pet have probably thought about what it might be like when we have to say goodbye. Will it be cancer, heart disease, or a conglomeration of symptoms that equate to a bad quality of life? How do we know when it’s the right time? How will we know the right way to say goodbye?
Our team is all too familiar with pet loss. We know how difficult this is for both pet and parent, and our hospice care services are designed to aid your family through this process.
What is Veterinary Hospice Care?
With pet hospice, the goal shifts from direct treatment of a disease to treating symptoms for comfort at the end of a pet’s life. Veterinary hospice care isn’t a place, like it sometimes is with humans. It’s a personal choice, aided with the guidance of your veterinarian, to become nurse and caretaker for your pet at the end of their life.
It’s an alternative to premature euthanasia and prolonged suffering. You may know the term “palliative care” which is treating symptoms of a disease (like pain or nausea) but not the disease itself. Palliative care is designed to make the patient comfortable. That may mean avoiding treatment that may have a negative affect on their quality of life, like chemotherapy or medications with negative side-effects. Hospice care isn’t about prolonging a pet’s suffering, but rather preventing it for as long as possible.
When Should I Consider Hospice Care?
This type of medical care is appropriate when a pet has a terminal disease, a short life expectancy, or a range of debilitating symptoms brought on by old age. Aggressive treatment may not seem reasonable when your pet has a poor prognosis or advanced age. Hospice care can maximize the time you have with your pet while your family adjusts to their coming loss.
Having to tell our clients that nothing else can be done is one of the most difficult parts of working in the veterinary field. We become personally attached to our patients and can empathize from our own experiences with pets passing. When the situation is appropriate, we are understanding and eager to offer hospice care advice for our patients, which provide options outside of euthanasia.
is a quality of life assessment we use to help our clients gauge their pet’s end-of-life needs
We recommend evaluating your pet honestly so the areas of your pet’s wellness that are lacking can be addressed by our veterinarians.
What Might Hospice Care Treatment Include?
When making a quality of life appointment for your pet, your veterinarian will always begin with a complete physical examination and full assessment of your pet’s quality of life. They will create a custom treatment plan to help you care for your pet and monitor their condition.
Care Plan May Include:
- Educational support about your pet’s disease process and pain recognition
- Nutritional support with food therapy, prescription diets, and medications for nausea and appetite
- Ensuring adequate hydration by administering fluids or correcting household practices
- Managing pain with medications, laser therapy, or other tools
- Promoting sanitation and grooming when your pet can no longer manage it themselves, which may include wound care, bandaging, or helping them go to the bathroom
- Providing safe mobility and mental stimulation for your pet on a daily basis
- Other symptom management that may require medications or procedures
It can be expensive, emotionally taxing, and can require constant supervision. We don’t always have the ways and means to give our pet this kind of treatment, and that’s okay, too. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Appropriate hospice care is a “best circumstance” kind of situation, and not an option for a lot of pet owners.
(Caution: The following may contain sensitive material for pet parents.)
The Last Step
When hospice care isn’t a viable option or we can no longer provide your pet with a good quality of life, there is only one thing left to do. Every pet will get to the point where pain management fails, symptoms are too much to manage, and they are tired.
The difference between human and veterinary hospice care is that we can choose to provide a painless, peaceful goodbye for our pets when our best efforts are no longer enough.
A natural passing is not always pain-free or peaceful. Sometimes a pet’s death may be prolonged over a course of days and can include sudden suffering. Anxiety, labored breathing, dehydration, vomiting, incontinence, severe pain, heart attacks, and seizures can all accompany an animal’s natural death. It’s important to discuss your pet’s end-of-life plan with your veterinarian to avoid prolonged pain. A scheduled euthanasia can be the most compassionate thing we can do for our pet.
During the procedure, your veterinarian will first inject a sedative, then the euthanasia medication. Your pet will feel like they are falling asleep and will have no awareness of the end of life. It usually takes about ten to thirty seconds and they feel no pain.
Veterinary hospice care doesn’t erase the grief we experience with the death of a beloved pet, but it can offer peace of mind knowing we helped them live their life to the fullest without pain and suffering.
If you have any questions about your pet’s end-of-life care or would like to learn more about your options, don’t hesitate to contact any of our clinics.