Pet Hospice Care

For many years, pet owners have gone to great lengths to make sure their pet is comfortable in the last months, weeks, and days. Yet, the field of veterinary medicine may not always call it “hospice” nor is there a place to reside as we have in human care.

Pet hospice care is similar to what you think of with people. There is no longer a focus on a cure or treatment of the illness. The focus becomes about the quality of life and pain free living for whatever time remains.

There is no right or wrong. There is no one set way. It is not easy.

So, where do you begin?

Talk with Your Vet

Most vets will work with families on pet hospice care, but they need to know your wishes. And for pets, euthanasia is a legal option. Some families will decide to euthanize rather than start intensive home care, especially if the pet’s quality of life is in question.

Other families will start hospice care and then decide to euthanize. We can’t tell you which one is right (see above), but we can help you with options.

The decision for hospice care will take multiple conversations. You need time to process what is happening. Consider booking an appointment, without your pet, to talk with your vet (yes, we do this). You could bring along another friend or family member to help take notes and serve as an extra set of ears. It may be easier to focus this way.

The Questions

While the questions could be endless, these can get you started. If you have been through this and have helpful questions–please let us know.

  1. What will you stop doing? What medicines are necessary and what are not? What vaccinations are important? What lab work is necessary, if at all? At some point, the routine medical care for your pet will change.
  2. What do you need to start doing (or continue) to provide maximum quality of life? Can you be trained on things to do at home to improve quality of life?
  3. What about hydration issues? Will your pet need fluids frequently? This is common in many of our patientsgiving fluids to your cat with kidney failure. It is relatively easy to do at home, is low cost, and provides a good boost to their quality of life. In some cases, it may add quality weeks or months to your pet’s life.
  4. How will you handle nutrition? Many pets struggle with appetite and eating towards the end. Are you willing to try different diets or even homemade diets?
  5. How will you handle toileting? If your pet has trouble with mobility, are you able to take your pet outdoors safely and frequently for bathroom time? Will your pet need to use a “puppy pad” indoors and how will that work in your home? If your pet is incontinent, will you use a pet diaper?
  6. How will you handle your pet’s hygiene? No pet likes to be dirty (this is especially so for cats). They may be unable to groom and clean themselves so you may have to take over. It doesn’t mean a full bath every day, but there may be daily hygiene issues to consider especially if your pet has frequent accidents or is diapered.
  7. What about pain management? How will you control this at home? How will you evaluate pain? Fortunately, the field of veterinary medicine has some terrific pain management options.
  8. How will you work with your vet and the vet’s staff? Are they available via phone? Are you billed for phone calls? What if you have an emergency or concern after hours? Can you reach them and will they provide care after hours? Can a certified veterinary technician provide some services to save on time or expense? Will your vet or his staff train you on procedures you can safely do at home (e.g., giving fluids, injections)?

You. Yes, You.

What is your own quality of life? This is a completely fair and legitimate question, but so often we don’t ask it!

Do you have the time this extra pet care may take? Who will provide respite care for you? What if you have to go out of town? And finally, while everyone hates to think about this part, what is your budget? Are you realistically able to afford the care needed?

I Am Overwhelmeddog's paw in hand

When things are emotional and raw, we have a hard time knowing what to do. A voice in our head screams, “Just tell me what to do! Just give me an answer!”

When you are feeling overwhelmed, let your pet’s quality of life drive your decisions. You are in the driver’s seat for your pet’s welfare. Let your pet tell you where to go.

Resources for Pet Hospice Care

Argus Institute at Colorado State University: This is a “go to” resource for all things “end of life”

International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care

Pawspice is a specialty animal hospital in California, but their website has tremendous information.

Hospice Care for your Pet from AVMA

Read about our own Jennifer Gidley and her experience providing hospice care to her cat, Gizmo.