National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) explains the philosophy behind hospice care as such: “When cure is no longer possible, hospice recognizes that a peaceful and comfortable death is an essential goal of health care.”
While we typically think of hospice care, we generally associate it as a method of caring for humans who are terminally ill. But, what about your pet family members? When the time comes, don’t they also deserve to experience a peaceful and dignified death?
Caring for Our Animal Companions
No one wants to think or talk about the short life spans of our animal companions. Although we know their lives will be much shorter than ours, it never makes it any easier when they pass. And, while we can’t do anything to prevent the inevitable, we can provide love and proper nutrition to extend their lives as much as possible.
When pets start to get older, many owners notice little signs of deterioration, fatigue, and dietary issues. Some are more normal, while other symptoms may be an indication of a more serious disease. And, some symptoms may be more debilitating than others.
Caring for a Terminally Ill Pet
When a pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it can be difficult to know how to best care for them. Whether your pet has years, months, weeks or days left to live, it can be hard to watch them suffer in pain. It can be hard to know when it’s the right time to put a pet down, and how to care for your pet in the meantime.
Because of this, an increasing number of people are turning to pet hospice to care for their terminally ill pets. It’s likely that pet hospice has been practiced for longer than we realize, though it may not have been referred to as such. Just as with our human loved ones, pet hospice care is a philosophy aimed at ensuring that our furry friends spend their final days experiencing as little suffering as possible.
Defining Pet Hospice
The American Veterinary Medical Association defines veterinary hospice as, “care that will allow a terminally ill animal to live comfortably at home or in a facility.” While it is meant to provide physical and emotional comfort to the animal in the time before death, it isn’t meant to cure their illness.
Some pet owners and their veterinarians may choose not to euthanize, while others will. It is ultimately about providing the most appropriate option for the dying pet. Katherine Goldberg, a veterinarian specializing in hospice and geriatric care, reminds us that, “Euthanasia is a gift and a tool and the best thing we can do to relieve pain and suffering in animals when appropriate, but it is not the only way.”
Helping Grieving Pet Owners
With pet hospice, the goal is to provide comfort and to maximize quality of life for as long as possible. And, while the care and comfort is focused on the animal, there also added benefits to the owners. Pet hospice can also provide comfort to pet owners who are experiencing “anticipatory grief”, and additional stress triggered by receiving a terminal diagnosis of their pet. Not only are they able to spend more quality time with their pets during their final days, but they can also take comfort in knowing that they made their pets as peaceful and pain-free as possible at the end of their lives.