Advances in veterinary medicine and nutrition, combined with owners taking advantage of preventive care, has resulted in pets living longer, healthier lives. Geriatric pets commonly confront debilitating diseases, such as chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure, and cancer, which can negatively impact their quality of life in their later years. Our team at Palmer Veterinary Clinic considers your pet part of our family, and we want to explain hospice and palliative care, to help you determine if these options are appropriate for your pet.

What are veterinary hospice and palliative care for my pet?

Many people confuse hospice and palliative care, but they can play different roles as your pet approaches the end of their life.

  • Hospice care Care focused on the comfort and quality of life of a pet affected by a serious illness who is approaching the end of life
  • Palliative care — Care, usually medical, focused on relieving pain, as opposed to addressing the underlying condition causing the pain. Palliative care is typically an element of hospice care.

When is hospice and palliative care appropriate for my pet?

If your pet has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or a condition where treatment would significantly and adversely affect their quality of life, you should consider hospice and palliative care. The goal of treatment shifts, from treating the underlying disease in hopes of a cure, to keeping them as comfortable and pain free as possible. This shift does not mean you have given up on your pet. Hospice exists to allow your pet the dignity to spend their remaining time with you in peace.

What does hospice care for my pet involve?

Our attentive team at Palmer Veterinary Clinic will tailor a specific plan, based on your pet’s unique needs, to your pet. Elements typically addressed include:

  • Dietary support — Your pet’s appetite will likely decrease if they are suffering from a serious illness. This can lead to waning energy levels, weight loss, and muscle atrophy. You can offer tempting foods that trigger their taste buds. Feeding them by hand sometimes helps, as well.
  • Hydration maintenance — Offer your pet multiple sources of clean, fresh water. If your pet enjoys drinking from the faucet, they may drink more from a water fountain.
  • Facilitating urination and defecation — This may involve holding up your pet so they can relieve themselves, or simply assisting them to an appropriate area. Cats will benefit from litter boxes with lower sides that make getting in and out easier.
  • Frequent cleaning and grooming — As your pet’s condition worsens, bathroom accidents may become frequent. Keeping their coat free from waste material is important, because the soiling can lead to skin irritation and infections.
  • Assisting with movement around the home — Your pet’s mobility will likely decrease as the disease progresses, and they will need assistance moving from one area to another. If they spend large amounts of time lying down, they should be turned frequently, to help avoid bed sores.
  • Providing mental stimulation — Keeping your pet mentally engaged can slow the progression of some disease processes. Offer them food puzzle toys, or let them watch videos of birds and small animals.
  • Bestowing regular affection — Every pet, especially when they are sick, benefits from their owner’s loving attention.

What does palliative care for my pet involve?

This aspect of care includes managing your pet’s symptoms to alleviate discomfort and distress. Medications can be given to reduce nausea to help them eat more, and to decrease lung inflammation to improve breathing ability. Numerous prescription pain medications and supplements will alleviate your pet’s pain and possibly improve their mobility. Other procedures, including hydrotherapy, cold laser therapy, and acupuncture, may help alleviate your pet’s discomfort. Our team can determine the best protocol to manage your pet’s pain.

How do I know when to euthanize my pet?

Deciding to euthanize your pet is a burdensome determination. You want your pet to live as long as possible, without suffering needlessly. Your family also needs to be at peace with the decision. Keeping a diary that details your pet’s quality of life will help you determine when euthanasia is the kindest option. Five factors should be assessed to ensure your pet is not enduring too much distress—their appetite, water intake, ability to urinate and defecate, and their joy in life. A quality of life scale can help record your assessments. In the early stages, your pet will likely have good days and bad. When the bad days start outweighing the good, you should ask our caring team for advice on your pet’s readiness for euthanasia. 

Owning a pet in their final life stages is a heartbreaking situation. Grieving the loss of a treasured pet is painful, and you will need support during this difficult situation. Counselors who are trained specifically in pet-loss support are available. Seeking support from family, friends, and counselors is crucial to ensuring your wellbeing during the loss of your pet. If you are contemplating placing your pet on hospice and palliative care, do not hesitate to contact our concerned team at Palmer Veterinary Clinic.