Veterinary Hospice is a family-centered, medically supervised, and team-oriented service dedicated to maintaining comfort and quality of life for the terminally ill or geriatric pet until natural death occurs or the family elects euthanasia.
Modeled originally from human hospice, this specific type of veterinary care is focused on the comfort of your pet, not at finding a cure for his or her disease. It is important to note that veterinary hospice does not include any diagnostic or blood-work services. Our goal is to focus on comfort and maintaining the human animal bond.
Hearing those dreaded words “nothing else can be done” does not mean that euthanasia is the only option you have left. Veterinary hospice care is a unique approach to your pet’s end-of-life needs, one that focuses specifically on managing symptoms and maintaining happiness for as long as possible.
You may have already received the diagnosis of a terminal illness from your family veterinarian, or you may be managing advanced age in your pet (see Geriatric Care). You may also simply need to buy some time before your spouse, child, or other family/friend has a chance to say goodbye.
Whatever the case may be, I promise we’ve heard it all, and there is always something more we can do to help ease the process of death and dying. Pain mediations and proper instructions on how to use them along with a specific and powerful symptom management protocol are essential to everyone’s peace of mind.
Hospice care revolves around the client-patient-doctor relationship, adding interdisciplinary supplemental services to support the family in any way possible. Education about your pet’s medical condition is the most important aspect of hospice care, and it’s what Lap of Love veterinarians spend the most time on. We have informational sheets on many common diseases our companion animals suffer from located in the Education section of the website.
You need to know what to expect in those last few weeks, days, and hours in order to make the best decision for you, your pet, and your family. Although we cannot know for sure, we use our medical knowledge to help you make those decisions. We assist you in implementing a plan that will meet your pet’s needs and respect your family’s wishes.
Veterinary hospice care usually includes, but is not limited to:
- Education about the end-stage disease process
- Pain recognition and treatment
- Subcutaneous fluids
- Supplementary nutrition
- Management of incontinence
- Bandage and wound care
- Oxygen therapy (when appropriate and available)
There are many things that can be done at home to help your pet be more comfortable in the end-of-life stages. Visit the Education area of our website for more information. We also encourage you to talk with your regular veterinarian about additional comfort-oriented care.
Many families also find it helpful to speak with others that have been through this difficult process. You may visit our Facebook page to read posts and view stories from other families.
A NATURAL DEATH
For some, euthanasia may be religiously or emotionally off the table. A “natural passing" is usually elected in this case. There are some very important points to understand when deciding if this is the right option for you and your family:
(Please proceed with caution, some pet parents may feel this is sensitive material.)
- A true “natural death” is neither quick nor painless. Mother Nature has her ways of ensuring predators remove the weakest or slowest from the pack regardless of the mental state of such prey. Our pets are not in a “natural” environment, or else they would not live into their geriatric years. Therefore, a “natural passing” could more appropriately be considered an “unassisted biological death.”
- Yes, there are some pets (and humans) that will simply close their eyes and not wake up, but that is, by far, the exception. “Going to sleep and not waking up” is what medical euthanasia provides, Mother Nature generally does not. The natural death process has mostly to do with the primary disease your pet has been diagnosed with. For example, heart failure results in the lungs filling up with fluid and therefore (please read this with caution), a pet drowning to death. In short, death occurs when the brain fails to receive adequate levels of oxygen. How this happens, how long it takes to fully occur, and the mental state of your pet during this process, is not always an easy thing to witness.
Please remember that although the above paints a gloom picture of unassisted biological death, it is intended to address the most common reasons families shy away from euthanasia. However, death will occur whether or not we step in and euthanize or not. Death is the opposite of birth, not the opposite of life, and our species dies without the use of these medications every day. Therefore, if your pet happens to pass without euthanasia, we believe this is a beautiful thing, perhaps a gift your pet gave you by not requiring that the ultimate decision be made on his/her behalf.
Although not the primary goal of veterinary hospice, an unassisted death can be honored and supported the same way euthanasia is.