When pet owners ask me whether “it’s time”, I often say to them, “your friend is ready, but he (or she) will wait until you are. Let’s make sure we keep him comfortable until then.” This is veterinary hospice.
Veterinary Hospice might be a new term for you to think about, but it’s an idea that makes sense for our animal companions who’s lives are never long enough! It is end of life care for our animals, focused on the patient and family’s needs. It is purposefully helping our patient live life as fully as possible until the time of death with or without intervention (euthanasia); and it is allowing you and your family to prepare, to a degree, for the death of your pet.
Many people ask me if they should get a second dog as a companion to their older dog. After all, it doesn't take twice as much work to take care of two right? (Although remember, it does cost twice as much!)
If you add the right second dog to the family and are a bit lucky, it can work well for all involved.
When you think the word "Dog", what image comes to mind?
In my minds eye,
I see a verb,
an action word,
a creature in motion.
Running, digging, crouching, sniffing, wagging - dogs hold such joy in their hearts. Expressing that exuberance in activity and motion is a big part of who they are.
When I talk to clients about quality of life indicators in their older dogs, of course we talk about mobility, pain control, appetite, elimination habits and other biological functions. But quality of life also involves a dog's spirit - the behaviors and activities that create the special bond we have with our canine companions and the daily adventure that is a dog's life.
There are so many treatment options in veterinary medicine these days - we can choose cancer radiation treatments, joint replacements, kidney transplants for our pets - all quite successfully in the right cases.
But we as pet owners almost always outlive our pets, so we are repeatedly faced with making difficult decisions about their care and the lengths we will go to treat them.
So what do you do if you are facing a terminal disease for your pet, you have chosen not try to "cure" the disease and now you are seeing declining quality of life. The decision on whether and when to choose euthanasia is a difficult and personal one. You may be thinking you need to postpone it. Maybe you feel your pet still has more good days than bad. Maybe you want to make it until the next college break, or the end of a deployment. Maybe it's not a decision you are emotionally prepared to make. Veterinary hospice may be something you are considering.
I've written about veterinary hospice in the past, and while more and more veterinarians are offering hospice care programs, the truth is many pet owners have been providing basic hospice care for some time - home cooking, help getting outside, cleaning up after daily accidents. Doctors can prescribe pain control, appetite stimulants, fluids, etc., but whether your veterinarian gets involved or not, when you are providing end of life care for your pet, you need to think about three different budgets:
When any one of the three runs out, it’s important to acknowledge it's time to do something differently. As difficult as it will be to ask, find some help from a veterinarian, extra helping hands at home and/or a mental health professional.
You've got to balance the budget.
Mary Craig, DVM, MBA
Dr Craig is a mobile veterinarian with a house call practice focused on end-of-life care.