What to Know About Hospice and Palliative Care for Ailing Pets

Sad old dog
Hospice and palliative care care help provide comfort and support for your pet in his last days.

As loyal and loving companions, pets deserve the best care throughout their entire lives. This is especially important when their quality of life may diminish due to terminal illness or advanced age. Hospice and palliative care can help provide comfort and support for your pet in his final days.

The Basics

Hospice and palliative care are often considered together. Hospice care allows a terminally ill pet to live at home and receive care, and helps pets near the end of life live comfortably and with dignity. Palliative care focuses on relieving pain and other disease signs, and allows the opportunity for treatment to enhance your pet’s comfort. 

Palliative care can be accomplished in different ways depending on your pet's individual needs. Your veterinarian may prescribe a pain medication that’s best for your pet’s unique health status. Other strategies for relieving and controlling pain can include acupuncture, medical massage and various physiotherapy techniques.

Hospice and palliative care can also involve modifying your pet’s environment to address mobility limitations and improve hygiene and comfort. Hand-feeding, combing and nursing techniques, like emptying your pet’s bladder and cleaning urine or stool off your pet’s fur, are examples of day-to-day hospice care.

The Timing and Process

If you and your veterinarian determine that your pet's condition is no longer treatable, it may be time to consider hospice or palliative care. You may also consider beginning these supportive at-home care practices when your pet is being successfully treated for a condition but the end of his life is still approaching due to advanced age. Your veterinarian can help you make the decision as to when to start care.

Though most veterinarians assess your pet’s readiness for hospice and palliative care during an in-office visit, much of the actual caregiving can take place in your home — and some of it can be done by you. Some veterinarians also offer specific treatments, like acupuncture, in your home. 

However, even though you might provide some care yourself, your veterinarian will stay involved. Your vet will need to periodically assess your pet’s health and circumstances and potentially provide updates and modifications to your pet’s pain-management plan. These assessments are typically best made in person. 

At some point, your veterinarian may recommend euthanasia when your pet’s life quality becomes unacceptable. As hard as it is to think about, when your pet’s quality of life slips below a certain level, you may need to consider relieving him of his suffering. That level is different for every pet and pet owner, so you should thoroughly and honestly discuss your feelings with your veterinarian. It’s important that you be comfortable with whatever decision you reach.

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