This is the first in our four part series by Dr. Halle on pet hospice and the end of life journey for your fur baby. Dr. Halle guides us through our pet’s natural dying process and provides us with sage advice on handling the process with grace.
It’s never too early to learn about hospice
If you’ve been through hospice with a family member, you likely have a good idea of what that entails, but if you haven’t you may not know what I’m referring to. Even if you don’t, you likely know that hospice is a service that is used surrounding the end of life, however that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it now as you look at your vital 5 year old dog in the prime of her life. End of life care decisions are almost always very difficult decisions. The more you think about these things in advance, the more prepared you are on the day that you receive the often emotionally traumatizing life-limiting diagnosis for your fur baby.
I strongly encourage all pet parents to learn about pet hospice even if you have just adopted a puppy or kitten who is unlikely to need this kind of care for many years. The more knowledge you have now while you are far from the emotionally challenging situation, the better equipped you will be.
If you are currently facing a life limiting diagnosis with your friend, it is not too late to learn about hospice. It isn’t even too late if you have already said goodbye to your fur baby on this plane of physical existence. Reading through this series can help you understand what you went through and help with your emotional healing process.
What is Pet Hospice?
Hospice works really well as a follow up to palliative care, which is providing care for a medical condition where the goal is not to cure the patient but to relieve suffering and increase quality of life. Hospice is the step after the palliative care. Hospice is when we have a diagnosed life limiting condition where the patient is not expected to live more than a month or two longer.
Hospice care relieves suffering and provides support up to and through the dying process. In humans, almost without exception, the care is continued through the process of natural death. In our pets we have the gift of being able to choose euthanasia if and when that is the best option. Hospice care in veterinary medicine can be hospice until planned euthanasia as natural death approaches, or a hospice supported path through the natural death process with an option to use euthanasia at such time as we can no longer adequately relieve our fur baby’s suffering.
How does hospice care work?
Generally, hospice care is administered in the patient’s home. That way the doctor gets a really good idea of the challenges and opportunities unique to your space and your family. Hospice care is a team effort involving the doctor, the family and any other patient caretakers, as well as other people such as grief support counselors, clergy members, or anyone else who is needed to help support the patient and the family as you all walk through the process together.
As hospice care progresses, regardless of whether the family has chosen euthanasia, natural death, or to wait and see what feels best in the moment, it is important to understand the natural death process in order to know what kind of support is appropriate at what stages. For example, providing fluid therapy under the skin to a cat with kidney disease is appropriate and helps improve quality of life, but when the active dying process begins or is about to begin this therapy should be discontinued as it serves more to prolong the process than to assist in any meaningful way.
Hospice care can = quality time
Hospice is a wonderful tool to allow us to spend more quality time with our fur babies. It also allows for close contact with a knowledgeable professional to help walk you through the difficult decisions in those final days. These professionals can also help you understand what’s happening and the particular disease your fur baby is dealing with, and that knowledge can help relieve your fears about the dying process.
Even if your pet is not in the final months of her life, I highly recommend a consult with a hospice experienced vet any time you are concerned about the dying process or would like more information to help make decisions for the future, no matter how far off that future may be.
©Onpets, LLC 2017. All rights reserved.
Dr. Erika Halle (previously Raines) obtained her D.V.M. degree from Oregon State University. She was certified in veterinary acupuncture, traditional Chinese veterinary food medicine, and Tui-na (Chinese medical massage) by the Chi Institute in Florida and certified in veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (veterinary chiropractics) by the Healing Oasis in Wisconsin. She is happy to be practicing veterinary medicine back in her childhood home of the Willamette Valley.