Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Anyone who has taken more than a passing glance at the
pet food section of a supermarket can tell you the three distinct pet life stages traditionally recognized: puppy/kitten, adult and senior. These three stages influence all aspects of a pet’s care, including nutrition, exercise and veterinary care.
These stages are informal designations with somewhat fluid gateways rather than
hard-and-fast age requirements, because there is so much variability from breed to breed, For example, 6 years old might represent
senior age in a giant breed such as a
Great Dane, but a small
dog like a
Chihuahua might not be considered senior until closer to 10 or 11 years old. Nonetheless, veterinarians have had a good deal of success in using these three stages as a starting point in assessing individual needs.
No matter the age of the pet, treating a pet in any of the three life stages has the same goal: keeping the pet healthy and happy for as long as possible. But, as we all know, despite our best hopes and efforts, life spans are finite, and the last weeks or months of a pet’s life are often spent in declining health. There is a distinct difference between a dying pet and a
senior pet who, despite his or her advanced age, can still be in excellent health.
Does this matter? You bet. It matters so much, in fact, that many veterinarians are beginning to add a fourth life stage designation to our arsenal of terms: end of life.
Unlike the other three life stages, end of life has less to do with age and more to do with a pet’s condition. Though we hope a pet reaches senior age before facing the end of her life, terminal illnesses can also strike younger pets.
Traditional veterinary medicine focuses on extending life through treatment of disease, which often continues right up until the pet either dies naturally or is euthanized. But if owners decide during the course of an illness that they
no longer wish to pursue curative treatment, many feel very confused as to what to do next.
What can veterinarians offer when we know a pet’s passing is imminent and that the owners are no longer pursuing a cure, but they aren’t yet ready to euthanize? While some veterinarians are starting to offer forms of palliative care for dying pets, a comprehensive end-of-life strategy is much more encompassing.
The International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) is leading the charge in that regard. Palliative care, which refers to treatment aimed at relieving the symptoms associated with disease (as opposed to curing the disease itself), can be applied at many moments in life, such as surgical rehabilitation and recovery from illness. When it comes to treating a pet suffering from terminal disease, palliative care has many forms: pain management, relief of nausea or management of dehydration, just to name a few. Palliative care is an important component of end-of-life care, but it is not the only part.
As a pet’s
terminal disease progresses, mobility needs can also change, necessitating such items as carts or slings for some patients. It's important for pet owners to watch for signs of incontinence to keep the pet clean and comfortable. Nutritional needs can also change dramatically as a pet’s appetite decreases, so making sure a pet gets optimal nutrition during this time can be a challenge and often requires regular counseling as the situation changes.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
An Indiana shelter with a soft spot for
seniors is making life better for a Golden
Retriever with terminal cancer.
From bringing in your puppy or kitten to
telling your friends about him or her, there
are plenty of ways to make a…
Minimize the risk of a bad trick-or-treat
interaction by brushing up on your dog’s
manners before October 31.
Dr. Jenna Ashton shares how to
determine your pet's water intake and tips
for encouraging him to drink more.
The Schapendoes (aka Dutch Sheepdog)
is known for his incredible jumping skills
and cheerful personality.
Parasites are no fun for dogs. Learn how
to protect your canine from heartworms,
hookworms, whipworms and more.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.