Caring for an ill pet can be as intensive as caring for a human family member. Some illness is more easily managed than others, and some pets may be more easily cared for than others. However, the physical, emotional and financial stress can be overwhelming. You may consider veterinary hospice as an option that is right for you. Veterinary hospice care is for pets that have a terminal illness from which they will not recover.
Hospice is a philosophy, not a place.
It involves developing a team and a plan of care.
The hospice team for pets consists of the family, veterinarian, veterinary specialists, friends, relatives, pet sitters, grief counselors, and other end of life service providers. The veterinarian may bring in other veterinary specialists to provide acupuncture, physical therapy, laser therapy, or other treatments.
Hospice for pets involves developing a plan of care with the assistance of a veterinarian. The plan of care includes pain management, nutritional support, hydration, wound care, mobility support and may need to address other concurrent medical issues. All of these treatments are meant to be palliative care- focused on managing the symptoms and keeping the pet comfortable with an acceptable quality of life, but not focused on curing the disease. Sometimes we may opt for medications that will help your pet have good quality of life in the short term, but may have adverse long- term effects. However, knowing the pet’s time is limited, we focus on having the best days we can in the short term.
Pet hospice requires an assessment of the family’s needs and resources. There is no point in having a care plan that requires medication every few hours if there is no one able to administer it. Sometimes the amount of care required for an acceptable quality of life is not achievable by the family, and peaceful euthanasia should be considered as an option. Other times, the pet’s condition may rapidly deteriorate necessitating a re-evaluation and change in the care plan. Ongoing quality-of-life assessments using a quality-of-life scale, such as JOURNEYS should be used to score your pet’s comfort level and make adjustments to the plan as necessary.
The burden of care must not be underestimated.
There are physical demands- lifting to support a pet, frequent rotating so they don’t develop pressure sores, getting up several times a night for medications, and bathing to keep them clean (especially if they need assistance to urinate or defecate).
There are financial and time issues as well. Who will care for the pet while we are at work? How do we function at work or home when we have been awakened several times a night to care for our pet? Financially we may not have the resources for continued care- medication, treatments, and otherwise.
Emotionally the end of life can be a roller coaster. The highs of a good day when our pet is really enjoying life and the lows when our pet- who looked so good yesterday- is now tired and withdrawn.
Care taking for a terminally ill pet can be rewarding, but it is a significant undertaking; and the responsibility should not be taken lightly. Taking a hard look at a plan of care, your resources, and determining what is feasible and what is not is part of the hospice plan. Discuss your options and how you will care for your pet- and yourself- as you begin your pet’s end of life journey.