Our pets bring us so much joy. We watch them grow and become part of our families, providing companionship and happiness to all around them.
But as time passes and the years slip by, even the most energetic of pets can begin to slow down. Eventually, we are all faced with the decision about when is the right to say goodbye to our pets. Whilst this can be immensely emotionally taxing, it is important to consider what options are available for you to help your pet live well at the end of its life.
What is Pet Hospice Care?
Pet hospice care (also known as end-of-life care or palliative medicine) focuses on providing relief for animals with incurable conditions. Typically, pet hospice care is recommended by veterinarians when an animal is at the stage in their lives where a terminal illness or condition is causing a significant decline in a pet's quality of life.
An example of a good candidate for hospice care would be an older pet with cancer. If treatments (such as chemotherapy or surgery) are not possible, or a pet owner simply does not want to go down this route then hospice care is a much better option. The biggest difference between hospice care and regular vet care is that we are not trying to cure disease, rather, we are aiming to make life good in a terminal situation for as long as is appropriate.
This will often involve using medications (often pain killers), plus advice on home care and offering support and guidance for the family of a terminally ill pet. Hospice care is also suitable for a range of species, including dogs, cats and rabbits.
Pet hospice care is all about focusing on how to ensure that whatever time remains is as pleasant as possible for everyone - but, most importantly, the animal.
How Does Hospice Care Work?
A hospice care veterinarian (specially trained to deal with the physical and emotional aspects of end-of-life care) will gently guide you through the process.
During an end-of-life teleconsultation or at-home appointment, several things will happen.
First, your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s diagnosis. Whether that be advancing arthritis causing mobility issues, age related dementia or cancer, the vet will review your pet's previous medical records to assess the options .
Next, the vet will take their own history and (if an in-home visit) examine your pet. This examination is helpful as it allows the hospice vet to assess comfort and mobility, plus see firsthand your home set up. It also allows us the option of prescribing medications. If the client and vet are speaking remotely, the vet may wish to organise a home visit to do this.
After this, the vet will go through several ways to assess your pet’s quality of life and manage their problems. This also involves teaching pet owners how to recognise when their animal is deteriorating and what to do if so.
Whilst the number of home-visits or teleconsultations will vary depending on circumstance, pet owners frequently only require a single visit.
How Can You Tell If Your Pet Is In Pain?
There are several indicators pet owners can use to identify whether their elderly and/or sick pets are in pain or discomfort.
The signs include:
Exhibiting unusual aggressive behaviour (biting or hissing)
Making more noise (such as barking, meowing, whining etc)
Changes in eating habits
Shaking or trembling
How Can Hospice Visit Benefit Both Me And My Pet?
A hospice vet can assist you and your pet in several ways.
Besides recommending medication, they can also advise on the many strategies available to make life better for an ageing or terminally ill pet.
Installing things like night lights, non-slip mats, mobility ramps, toe grips (great for helping pets walk on slippery floors) can all be ways to help. Older, more senile pets may also benefit from white noise machines, pheromone diffusers and special diets to soothe anxiety.
Dietary changes may further help with pets struggling with inflammation, easing symptoms of arthritis. Light exercise sessions (that aren't too intensive) or various forms of physical therapy may also increase flexibility and reduce stiffness.
An end-of-life vet is not only trained to help your animal- but also help you.
They’ll discuss with you what your options are and what you as a family can handle, helping you make good decisions. Whilst Hospice care can take a lot of stress and guilt out of the end of life process, it can still nonetheless be a difficult time.
Your vet will therefore work with you to make the best decisions for you and your pet, without judgement. They can also help you create a plan for how to make your pet’s last weeks as happy as possible, through things such as ‘pet bucket lists’.
Hospice care can also make the final act (euthanasia) easier. Whilst euthanasia is a painless and peaceful procedure, having your end-of-life vet do this in your home hugely reduces stress for everyone involved.
In a vet clinic, euthanasia is often performed without sedation and the entire process is completed in a few short minutes. Something many pet owners struggle to reconcile and leave feeling guilty or rushed.
In-home euthanasia is a different story, as you have much more time in which to say goodbye. During such a visit, your pet will first be given some gentle medication so they drift off slowly into a deep sleep, before a final medication is given to end their life peacefully. They can be held in your arms as you say your final goodbyes.
It’s of course still a deeply sad moment, but it is also a beautiful moment and fitting way to say thank you to your pet. Your pet can pass in their favourite place with their favourite people, reducing the emotional toll for all concerned.
How Do I Enquire About End-of-life Services?
At Roundwood vets, we offer a unique and compassionate pet hospice service for all of our clients.
To find out more about it, you can either call up the practice, book a consultation online or have your vet refer you to us. Call today on 0800 0495944 to speak to one of the team about your pet and how we can help.