How Do I Find Hospice Care for My Pet?

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Q. Where can I find resources on hospice options for my sick, elderly Bernese Mountain Dog?

A. Start the discussion of end-of-life care with your pet’s veterinarian. In recent years, the veterinary community has accepted and largely embraced the ideals of the human hospice movement. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association now advises veterinarians to be prepared to discuss hospice care with clients and refer to hospice services if they're not offered in the practice.

Depending on your dog’s needs, you may be dealing with measures as relatively simple as prescription pain management and mobility assistance, or you may be referred to an oncologist for your pet to get intensive pain-relief intervention such as palliative radiation or amputation of a cancerous limb. (Amputation, although unpleasant for many pet lovers to think about, offers a significant reduction in the pain caused by bone cancer, and pets adapt quickly to life without the diseased limb — and without the pain.)

Your veterinarian may be able to set up outpatient hospice care for your dog. If your dog has cancer, she may also involve a specialist, such as a veterinary oncologist. These veterinarians are well-versed in hospice care, since in many cases their work isn’t so much about "curing" cancer but rather keeping it in check for as long as possible so a pet can maintain a relatively normal, active and pain-free life.

Although you are likely to work with your own veterinarian or with a veterinary oncologist, you may be able to find a veterinarian who has a dedicated hospice practice. While veterinarians dedicated to end-of-life care are not yet common, they are sure to become more so as the benefits of hospice care for pets and the people who love them become more widely known and understood. Visit the website of the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care for more assistance as you work with your own veterinarian.

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