Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull

When pets approach their life’s end, all we want is to hold on to them a little longer, and if we’re lucky, for a while, we get to see the world the way they do—in the present moment. In our attempts to hold on, we suddenly treasure every moment as a single unit of time rather than rushing toward the future. Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs can ensure your pet’s every moment is comfortable, dignified, and filled with love through palliative care and hospice.

What is palliative care for pets?

When aging pets with chronic conditions or progressive illnesses are transitioning to their final life phase, treating or curing disease is no longer the primary goal. Palliative care shifts the focus toward cultivating happy and enjoyable days for as long as possible, while embracing death as a natural life process. Palliative care is dedicated to managing pain and disease signs that affect quality of life.

Palliative care is not just for terminally ill pets, but is an appropriate choice for many pets with chronic conditions, such as arthritis, kidney disease, cancer, and cognitive dysfunction syndrome. No matter what your pet’s diagnosis is, palliative care can provide them with additional good days in the comfort of their own home.

What is hospice care for pets?

Hospice care commonly follows palliative care, after supportive measures begin to lose their efficacy or a pet’s condition worsens. Pet hospice care helps manage the dying process by controlling pain and maintaining comfort until a pet passes naturally or is humanely euthanized. 

How can palliative care or hospice care help my pet?

When all veterinary options have been exhausted or are financially restrictive, palliative care and hospice care form a bridge between life and death. This bridge ensures a smooth transition, without surprises, complications, or unnecessary suffering, by providing comprehensive care and support for a pet’s failing body and mind. Practical examples of palliative care and hospice care include:

  • Pain management — Routine pain assessments are performed to ensure a pet is not suffering. Pain relief can be administered by injection, oral medication, or therapies such as chiropractic care, massage, and gentle rehabilitation exercises.
  • Feeding and hydration — Declining pets may need to be fed by hand, syringe, or a surgically-placed tube. Regular small meals may be necessary to maintain their blood glucose and stamina. Pets also may require fluids to be given under the skin (i.e., subcutaneously) so they remain adequately hydrated.
  • Cleanliness — Pets may have decreased or no mobility, and fecal or urinary incontinence. Careful attention must be paid to keep them clean and dry to prevent skin breakdown and urinary infection.
  • Comfort — Pets may not be able to rotate themselves, putting them at risk for pressure sores. Special attention is paid to bedding and pet positioning to prevent lung congestion and skin ulceration.
  • Home modification — Rugs, ramps, bedding, and access to resources are evaluated in light of a pet’s condition and challenges to improve accessibility and comfort. 
  • Quality-of-life evaluation — End-stage pet health can deteriorate rapidly, so regular quality-of-life evaluation is important to ensure palliative care and hospice care are not prolonging life unnecessarily or allowing a pet to suffer.

Your veterinarian can explain and demonstrate the care necessary to ensure your pet receives consistent comfort and pain control. While pet hospice home care services are available in some areas, it is important to know how to perform these tasks yourself because you will be your pet’s primary caregiver. 

Is palliative care or hospice care right for my pet?

Your veterinarian can help to determine if end-of-life care is an appropriate choice for your pet. 

Your pet’s medical history, diagnoses, current condition, and care needs will be considered, as will your own schedule, willingness, and ability to meet those care needs. Palliative care and hospice care require consistency and dedication, and a large time commitment, which can be impractical for many owners. End-of-life care also can be extremely emotional work, and while some owners find it rewarding, others become too upset and frighten their pet with anticipatory grief.

When will I know it is time to say goodbye to my pet?

The decision to say goodbye to a beloved pet is never straightforward. Emotional bias and grief can prevent owners from seeing that their pet is no longer enjoying life and can cause them to wait too long. Your veterinarian can offer supportive but objective guidance, ensuring you make the right choice out of love, not sorrow.

To ensure the best decision for your pet, take the following steps:

  • Track your pet’s daily behavior, pain level, and attitude by keeping a journal. This can help you compare good and bad days or detect patterns.
  • Frequently discuss your pet’s status with your veterinarian. 
  • Fill out a quality-of-life assessment such as this one from Lap of Love.
  • Decide on an end-of-life plan for your pet. Will you choose humane euthanasia or a natural passing? Discuss your plan in advance with your veterinarian.

The decision to transition your pet to palliative care or hospice care can be emotionally challenging. However, it is important to understand that end-of-life care is not about surrendering to death, but rather about expressing deep and selfless love, compassion, and gratitude to your beloved pet. 

To find out if palliative care and hospice care are the right choice for your pet, schedule an appointment at the Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs.