When we first meet our new furry family members as young puppies or kittens, it is usually a happy and joyous time filled with smiles and laughter. As time moves on, we then watch them grow into adults with their own personalities and quirky behaviors. Too soon it seems, we are following our pets into their geriatric years with some expected and unexpected changes in health and lifestyle as they age. No matter what the age is of our family pets when it comes time to say goodbye, we always grieve the loss and wish for more time.
The Hospice Philosophy
A concept or way of thinking that has been well accepted in human medicine is the philosophy of hospice care for the patient with terminal or end of life issues. This patient centered ideology of switching from treating illness to focusing on comfort and pain relief has become more mainstream in the veterinary community over the past few years. Once we reach a point where medical intervention is not going to change a declining outcome, pet hospice can help provide increased quality to the time an animal has left with their family.
So What is Hospice?
As mentioned earlier, it is not a specific treatment but rather a philosophy that centers on comfort for both the patient and their family as the pet declines due to terminal or progressive illness. Even with a difficult diagnosis, it is possible to provide a period of pain relief, an opportunity to say goodbye, and counseling or support to help with grief and loss. With the help of your veterinarian, you can develop an individualized hospice plan specific for your pet’s needs. This should include realistic goals for comfort and quality of life, early decision making on what needs to be done if the pet is euthanized or passes on their own, and development of a support network among your veterinarian professionals and family members to help with difficult decision making and the grieving process to come.
What are Some Medical Interventions to Consider?
1. Pain Medication such as NSAIDs, Tramadol, and Pain Patches for short term but more intense pain relief
2. Medication to manage nausea and stimulate appetite
3. Therapeutic Laser to manage mobility loss, joint pain, soft tissue pain
4. Acupuncture to manage nausea, GI distress, and pain
5. Massage for its calming effects and sense of well-being
Day to Day Challenges During Pet Hospice
As a pet enters hospice, they will rely on their owners to manage their day to day needs including eliminations, sores or lesions if they are bed bound, and help with encouraging eating and drinking. Your veterinary professional will be able to help suggest any assisting products or environment changes that may be helpful with home care. The stress of caring for a declining dog or cat can be both physically and mentally exhausting. This is where a good support system is essential for pet owners. Our support network can lift us up in times of despair and bring us back down to reality when we need it.
That Difficult Decision
Euthanasia should be considered when the pain becomes unmanageable, a pet’s distress does not respond to any treatment, and/or the pet has started to disengage from their family and surroundings. Having a good relationship with your veterinarian and keeping an honest and open dialog about good days and bad days can help owners determine when it is time to consider this hard choice. Euthanasia is a difficult decision for everyone but can be a final gift of peace for a struggling animal. After a quick prick of a needle or catheter, the doctor will give an injection that will act like an anesthetic, essentially putting the mind to sleep before stopping the heart.
Keeping Our Pet’s Comfort at the Center of Our Choices
So consider pet hospice as an end-of-life option when faced with a diagnosis of a terminal disease or unmanageable condition. This philosophy is not about giving up on hope for your furry friend but rather, focusing on enjoying each day that you can spend together with comfort and love. Saying goodbye is always hard. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it as long as we keep our pet’s comfort and well-being at the center of our decisions.