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 referring to the approach to end of life care where we do not intervene medically
to hasten (euthanasia) or delay (through extraordinary 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
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- 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 euthanasia?
- 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?