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.
Hospice starts with “comfort care” – including, as needed supporting your pet’s nutritional and hydration needs, ensuring adequate hygiene and pain control. It also includes meeting his or her “happiness” needs with new activities and emotional enrichment as activity becomes more difficult.
In addition to comfort care, the hospice process includes tools that help you to regularly assess your pet’s quality of life and recognize when there are more bad days than good. It means thinking about ways you want to remember your companion and new memories you may want to create before it’s time. All of this allows many people to have a more peaceful goodbye when the time comes. And it can all happen in your home, when you and your family are ready.
Pet hospice is as much about you as it is about your pet. This is often the most difficult part of pet ownership. As a caretaker, you may be feeling heavy responsibility making pet healthcare decisions — past present and future — and perhaps anticipating the grief you will feel when your pet is gone. Keep in mind, this is a uniquely human struggle – our animals are less complicated with their feelings and more in touch with the natural cycle of life. It’s why we love them as much as we do.
The love between a pet and his or her people is complicated, and many things affect when “it’s time”. But being able to take advantage of the time you have and then say goodbye in a way that honors the relationship, the commitment and the amazing bond we have often makes the loss easier.
Mary Craig, DVM, MBA
Dr Craig is a mobile veterinarian with a house call practice focused on end-of-life care.