Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Palliative care and end-of-life hospice care for animals focus on improving quality of life, not curing disease. The decision to begin these types of care can be difficult for pet owners. Whether palliative care is right for an individual pet depends on the needs and capacity of the family as well as the medical needs of the animal, so the decision is specific to each pet and each caregiver.
Animals that are candidates for palliative and hospice care typically fall into one of these categories:
Palliative care is treatment that minimizes an animal’s pain and distress (without curing disease) at any time, not just at the end of life. The term hospice care more specifically refers to care near the end of life.
Hospice care generally includes palliative care for the animal and support for the human caregivers. The biggest difference between human and animal hospice care is that euthanasia is a legal and humane option for animals. Hospice-assisted natural death is possible for some animals. However, choosing to let pets “die on their own” without any relief of pain and distress is unethical.
Some veterinarians are specialists in palliative and hospice care. End-of-life care for animals might involve a team including veterinary staff members, specialists (like grief counselors) to support the humans, and the pet owners themselves.
Tips for Pet Owners
The American Association of Feline Practitioners recently published hospice and palliative care guidelines for cats and has very helpful suggestions for pet owners (not just cat owners). Here’s a summary; for more details, see the Cat Friendly Homes website.
If you know your pet is nearing the end of life, it can be very helpful to plan in advance for your pet’s death. Options might include euthanasia at your veterinarian’s office, home euthanasia (if available in your location), or hospice-assisted natural death (if appropriate and available for your pet). Ask about the euthanasia procedure and the cremation and burial options.
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Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/25256183337/
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.