Have you ever thought about hospice for your pet? Your vet may have talked to you about the three stages of your pet’s life, puppy, adult and geriatric, but what about the fourth stage: the end of life stage?
What is Animal Hospice?
Hospice is often misunderstood as only being about the actual end of life. It is really about the time leading up that, the time when a cure is no longer possible, when end of life is approaching and the emphasis shifts to palliative care (focusing on comfort). It may be only days, or it may be several months. Support is also available for human caregivers on this last journey with their beloved pet.
Is human hospice the same as animal hospice?
The short answer is yes, but more needs to be learned about this important aspect of care for both people and pets. Hospice and palliative care for humans has become a regular part of mainstream medical care. Animal hospice services are increasing in the US and animal practitioners, including veterinarians, are paying more attention to end of life palliative care. In-home care teams and pet bereavement counseling are also becoming more commonplace. We are more connected to our animals now than ever before and the response has been an increase in hospice options for animals.
When does an animal’s care switch from cure to comfort?
The decision to shift to palliative care is different for everybody. Discussing with your vet whether a cure is still an option is usually the first step. Time, finances, support, pain management, and past experience all will play a major role in this decision process. The question “What’s Next?” may happen at any stage, and should be brought up regularly in the case of chronic disease.
Should I wait for my vet to bring up the issue of hospice?
Right now veterinarians don’t get any training in hospice as part of their standard education, it’s almost never mentioned. Even their training in euthanasia is limited. Many practicing veterinarians have never witnessed the natural death process, so they are just as uncomfortable as the owners are. Death isn’t always a painful or unmanageable event for the animal, but our own response to the situation can color our decision-making process, and we may seek euthanasia because it’s known and controllable. Veterinarians are just like us in this regard. Don’t wait for your vet to start the conversation, ask questions about your pet’s care and whether they may be reaching this fourth stage of hospice.
What therapies are helpful for pets in hospice?
There are many options beyond standard veterinary care and pharmaceutical pain relief that can be safely included in the animal’s care. Supportive therapies such as homeopathy, flower essences, diet supplementation, aromatherapy, Reiki, animal communication, acupressure, herbal medicine, Tellington Touch, chiropractic, massage, water therapy and more. Many books have also been written on this topic and are extremely helpful and insightful.
How long will hospice last for any animal?
It could be from one day to months, even to years. Some animals will surprise everyone when offered daily home comforts and supportive therapies and live comfortably for longer than expected.
Where do I get help?
It’s a brave step to take when you bring a beloved animal home knowing there is no cure, only comfort and time and the unknown. If you’ve never cared for a sick pet or person the idea of hospice care might seem overwhelming. Hospice care for an animal is a team effort, and a person trained in animal hospice can help guide you. This person might be your veterinarian or a member of their staff trained in hospice. It might be a licensed clinical social worker, grief counselor, a veterinary homeopath, a rescue shelter, a veterinary specialist, or a member of a bereavement association. It may even be a non-professional or volunteer, or a fellow pet owner who has gone through this before. What’s important to remember is that there is help available.
- Spirits in Transition (end of life support/education)
- Association for Pet Loss Bereavement (free pet loss bereavement/education)
- Nikki Hospice Foundation (end of life support/education)
- International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (resources)
- Brighthaven Institute (healing art center for animals)
- New England Pet Hospice (resources)
- Angel’s Gate Hospice for Animals (resources)
- UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Support
- The Loss of a Pet – Dr. Sife (APLB)
- On Living and Dying – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
- Peace, Hope and Hospice – Gail Pope (Brighthaven)
- Into The Light – Gail Pope (Brighthaven)
- Getting Lucky – Susan Marino (Angelsgate)
- The Last Walk – Jessica Pierce