When your pet is reaching the end of their life, or they are living with a terminal illness, hospice care may be able to bring them comfort in their final weeks. Our Tumwater vets explain.
What does dog and cat hospice care do?
Whether it's your first pet or you've had many over the year, knowing that your dog or cat is near the end of their life is the most heartbreaking realization.
Maybe they have had health issues for a while and are showing signs of nearing the rainbow bridge, or perhaps they've received a terminal diagnosis of cancer or another disease. No matter their situation, you're likely wishing for just a bit more time together - and also not wanting them to suffer.
These are likely just some of the conflicting emotions you're experiencing right now - and that's completely okay. Fortunately, for you and your beloved dog or cat, pet hospice care can help preserve your pet's quality of life and help make them as comfortable as possible during their last days.
Veterinarians can provide supportive hospice care for pets with degenerative diseases or terminal illnesses, helping to manage their symptoms, reduce pain, boost their energy level and stimulate appetite.
While your pet won't be cured, this time in hospice care (also referred to as palliative care) can give you two more time together. We often advise clients to think of pet hospice care as a link between wellness care and euthanasia. At this phase, pet owners have made the difficult choice to decline to pursue curative therapies for their pet's life-threatening illness.
With decades of skill in expertise in veterinary care, our team at Tumwater Veterinary Hospital can help you develop a compassionate end-of-life plan geared to your pet's specific needs, including performing a complete quality-of-life exam, prescribing food and medication to manage pain and offering humane euthanasia.
When is hospice care a good option?
If your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet with a life-limiting illness, your four-legged friend is starting to show signs of clinical decline or is entering old age, it may be a good time to get information about dog or cat hospice care. Particularly, if your pet has any of these medical conditions, you might consider starting the conversation:
- Cancer or other incurable illness
- Long-term disability such as neurological disease or advanced arthritis
- A disease for which diagnostics or aggressive therapy options have been declined in favor of comfort care
- A long-term or progressive disease such as kidney disease, liver failure or heart failure
In addition, it's pertinent to consider whether your pet is in severe pain or is still engaged with their environment, surroundings and family.
How can I tell if my pet is in pain?
As loving pet owners who have spent a good portion of our lives with our animal companions, it's agonizing to think they may be experiencing any kind of pain or a reduced quality of life. That said, many of us will be faced with this question in our pet's lifetime. While we all have bad days, if those bad days are outnumbering the good, it's time to see your veterinarian to determine next steps.
Here are some signs your pet may have a poor quality of life:
- Not eating or drinking well
- Sleeps a lot
- Seems depressed
- Losing weight
- Reduced activity level
If your pet is dealing with severe pain, they may gradually start to show subtle symptoms such as:
- An increase or decrease in grooming behaviors
- Panting or changes in breathing
- Shaking or trembling
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Being hesitant to play or jump onto higher services (due to joint pain)
- Other problems with mobility and moving their body
- Hiding or not interacting with others like they used to
- Exhibits aggressive behavior
- Increased vocalizations (howling or meowing)
Remember that each animal will be unique, and your pet may continue to eat, drink or try to do activities despite disorientation or pain. They may not cry, whimper or display other outward signs normally associated with pain.
The best way to tell whether your pet's specific symptoms are related to their condition or something to be concerned about based on their medical history and status is to ask your vet.
How can I help my pet be comfortable at the end of their life?
If you and your pet are spending their last days together, we want this to be a peaceful period for both of you. Alleviating pain and reducing stress will be two of our team's essential priorities.
That's why it's important to have your Tumwater veterinarian perform a comprehensive physical exam to check for underlying health concerns that should be treated.
You can also make sure your pet's bed is extra comfortable, with lots of cushions and their favorite toys nearby.
Some pets also become incontinent (lose control of their bladder) late in life. If this is the case for your pet, make sure their living area isn't soiled or wet. You may want to use a sling or lay a towel down to help your pet get up to urinate or defecate if required.
How much does dog and cat hospice care cost?
The cost for pet hospice ranges widely depending on the level of service and location where support is being offered. Our team of veterinarians focuses on doing everything in our power to help ensure that your four-legged family member's final days or weeks are calm, comfortable and free from pain.
We can work with you to address any questions or concerns you may have, develop an individualized plan geared to your pet's needs and provide a cost estimate for any services that may be required. And of course, we are always here to provide comfort and support to pets and their families.
What should I ask my veterinarian about end-of-life care?
When it comes to finding appropriate end-of-life and pet hospice care for your cat or dog, you may have many questions. This list may be a good place to start as you consider service providers:
- Do you provide pet healthcare and pet hospice care services, and can they be customized to fit my and my pet's needs?
- Which treatments or solutions would be best for my pet, and why?
- Are you able to provide a cost estimate for hospice care services?
- Are there side effects for any recommended treatments or medications I'll need to watch for?
- Are there any aspects of my pet's health condition that require further clarification or testing?
As end-of-life pet care is always a deeply personal decision, it's also prudent to consider the time, emotional and financial investment you and your family can devote to your pet's care. Of course, it can be difficult to consider your pet's treatment may be limited by budget constraints.
However, finances are a big part of the decision for most pet owners. Always be reasonable and honest with yourself and loved ones based on your current capacity, capabilities and values. In addition, do not be hard on yourself; remember that your financial circumstances are not a measure of the love you feel for your pet.
Also, you might consider what your pet would want. Consider your pet's overall quality of life, and whether they are still enjoying daily routines, activities, meals, etc. If your pet is unlikely to regain well-being and an improvement to quality of life with treatment, might it be kinder to consider hospice care or euthanasia?
How can I deal with the loss of a pet?
It's perfectly normal to spend time grieving the loss of your pet and to feel a range of emotions - after all, they were a huge part of your life for a significant amount of time and you two have shared a lot of memories together.
You may choose to memorialize your pet and share happy memories with others who cared about them. Reach out to trusted family and friends (especially other pet owners) for support. There are also many pet loss support groups such as the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement and potentially local groups in your area.
If you have children, you may also consider how to involve them in the decision-making process, as well as conversations and memorials.
If you feel the need for counseling services, look to your local veterinary college for options. You might consider speaking to a healthcare provider if your feelings if you are experiencing severe or persistent feelings of grief and loss.
Pet Hospice Care at Tumwater Veterinary Hospital
If you've been wondering whether it's time to consider end-of-life care options for your cat or dog such as pet hospice care, our vets are always here to address any questions or concerns you may have about our services.
We are committed to treating your beloved pet with dignity and providing them and your family with support and comfort during your grief process.
Our trained veterinary team can assess your pet's health and recommend appropriate care, from performing a comprehensive quality-of-life exam to prescribing pain management tools and techniques and offering humane euthanasia.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.