Hospice & Palliative Care
What is Pet Hospice & Palliative Care?
This refers to a philosophy that promotes an alternative to immediate euthanasia or a painful death. The idea is that death can be experienced with dignity, as an animal rests at home with its loving family. We generally reserve this approach for pets in the final stage of a terminal illness and focus on giving animals a safe, caring, intimate end-of-life experience in their familiar environment. As such, it is not geared toward curing a patient's disease, but rather toward keeping the disease from causing any discomfort until the patient passes, either on its own, naturally, or with assistance.
What is the difference between Pet Hospice & Palliative Care?
We generally use the terms "Palliative" or "Comfort Care" to refer to the provision of pain relief, nursing care, nutrition, and other methods of physical & emotional support that are intended to keep the pet comfortable until the end of it's life, either naturally or through euthanasia. In contrast, we try to reserve the term "hospice" for reffering to the approach to end of life care where we do not intervene medically to hasten (euthanasia) or delay (through extrordinary measures) the pet's passing. This does not mean that we do nothing, it simply means that the intention is to allow the pet to pass in it's own time and in it's own way, while providing the same kinds of support as in palliative care.
How does veterinary hospice differ from the human situation?
Many people are familiar with the hospice concept from the human health care system. When dealing with animals, there are some important differences. First, the animal patient cannot choose hospice for itself. As caregivers, we must make that difficult decision for our friends, keeping the needs of the animal foremost in our thoughts. Secondly, in veterinary hospice, there are very few "hospice centers" where we can bring our animal for the process. The care occurs primarily at home, sometimes with occasional visits to the veterinary hospital, but delivered mostly by family members. Finally, as opposed to the human situation, although we may intend to do hospice with a pet, sometimes the particular circumstances of their illness or the family situation may change along the way, necessitating intervention with euthanasia to avoid undue suffering..
Is Hospice or Palliative Care the right choice for my pet?
Many terminally ill patients can benefit from home hospice or palliative care. Some common conditions for which hospice may be appropriate include various types of cancer, organ failure (e.g. kidney, liver, or heart), debilitating arthritis, and neurological problems. Important things to consider before choosing hospice include whether or not any pain that is present can be controlled, what procedures caregivers are willing/able to perform at home, and the availability of family resources such as time, money, psychological/spiritual support, etc. When considering hospice care, here are some questions that you should consider:
- Does your pet still truly want to continue living or are you choosing hospice because you feel guilty
about or are unable to make a decision regarding euthanaisa?
- Do you have the time, energy, and resources to commit to caring for your pet and
managing the medications and treatments necessary to keep him/her comfortable?
You may need to care for a pet that is unable to rise, is incontinent, needs frequent
cleaning, turning, and medication administration, and/or is not eating/drinking.
- Would you be comfortable giving your pet injections or learning to do this? (Many pets
will stop eating toward the end of their lives and the most effective way to provide
needed medications is often via injection)
- Can your pet's pain be managed effectively (we can help with this assessment)?
- Is everyone in your family in agreement about this course of care?
What can be done at home?
Though it can be extremely rewarding, hospice care requires preparation and work from the primary caregiver. Depending upon your abilities and comfort level, many nursing procedures can be performed at home with some assistance. Rainbow Bridge's staff veterinarians and licensed veterinary technicians, in conjunction with your regular veterinarian, are able to provide assistance with and training in performing these procedures. We may be able to assist you (either in the home or via telephone consultation), with such things as pain recognition and treatment, fluid administration, care of catheters, supplemental nutrition, bandage and wound care, management of incontinence, and general nursing care to make your animal friend as comfortable as possible. We can also provide referrals to other professionals who may be able to assist you in this journey.
-Providing Compassionate In Home End of Life Care for Pets-