Hospice and Palliative Care: Keeping Your Pet Comfortable
September 22, 2020
As a large specialty hospital, we treat pets with a variety of serious medical conditions and diseases. Our goal is to cure or manage disease in ways that preserve a good quality of life for each patient. Unfortunately, since we treat the sickest pets, sometimes a pet’s disease advances to an untreatable stage. Conditions such as cancer, kidney or liver failure, and heart disease may slowly progress until treatments can no longer delay the inevitable. Other times, a pet is diagnosed in the final, untreatable stage of a disease.During your pet’s last months, weeks, or days, our focus shifts to helping you keep her as comfortable as possible, maintaining her dignity, and preserving her quality of life. A hospice, or palliative-care, plan involves:
Managing clinical signs
When the time is right, we will work with you to begin a palliative-care plan so you can keep your pet at home to enjoy her final days with you. Palliative care takes a special commitment, as you will become your pet’s full-time nurse and caregiver.
Pain control for pets receiving palliative care
Many chronic diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, can cause debilitating pain that consumes your pet, who likely will not eat, move around, or interact, and her quality of life suffers, but we can alleviate your pet’s pain so she enjoys her last days with you. In addition to analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications, many alternative and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, laser therapy, and massage therapy, can help keep your pet comfortable.
Symptom management for pets receiving palliative care
Many times, the secondary effects of disease, not the disease itself, make your pet feel bad. Disease effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, high blood pressure, or fluid retention, can often be managed with a combination of medications and other therapies to stop them interfering with your pet’s quality of life. Sometimes, your pet will start eating again if you simply control a problem such as nausea, which will improve her energy level and mental outlook.
Nutrition maintenance for pets receiving palliative care
Your pet must continue eating to keep up her energy level, and prevent weight loss and muscle atrophy; however, chronic disease often causes nausea and vomiting. We can prescribe a combination of anti-nausea and anti-vomiting medications, and appetite stimulants, to encourage your pet’s appetite. This is also the time to offer your pet the tempting foods she is not typically allowed to eat. If she won’t eat her dog food, but will eat chicken and rice, let your beloved pet enjoy her favorite treats during her final days.
Mobility assistance for pets receiving palliative care
Pain, weakness, and arthritis can make getting around difficult for pets with an end-stage medical condition. However, moving around as normally as possible is important to your pet’s well-being. You can help your pet maintain her mobility in a number of ways, including:
Placing rugs and slip-resistant mats throughout your home to prevent your pet from slipping on hard floors
Using a towel or sling under your pet’s abdomen to support her back end while walking
Carrying your pet outside to enjoy the fresh air
Taking your pet on walks in a stroller or wagon
Try to keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible, with some adjustments. For example, if she used to spend time outside in the afternoon chasing squirrels, help her out so she can sit and watch them run around your yard. If you used to go on nightly walks together, push your pet in a stroller, or pull her in a wagon, so she can enjoy the sights and sounds.
Sanitation maintenance for pets receiving palliative care
Cleaning up bathroom accidents is not a fun part of palliative care, but keeping your pet clean and dry is critical, because urine and fecal soiling can lead to painful skin irritation and infections that add to her discomfort. Also, preserving your pet’s dignity is important for her mental health. No pet wants to sit in their own waste, so help your pet avoid accidents by making bathroom breaks as easy as possible. Help or carry your dog outside for bathroom breaks every few hours. Move your cat’s litter box to an easily accessible location, and switch to a box with a low opening that she can easily step into.
Quality time for pets receiving palliative care
Spending quality time with your pet is the most important part of her care. Pets who have diminished cognitive function will still enjoy sitting by your side, being lovingly petted. Take time each day, separate from your pet’s medical care, to sit and enjoy her company. Talk to your pet, feed her favorite treats, and do whatever will boost her spirits.
Considering euthanasia for pets receiving palliative care
Eventually, the day will come when your pet no longer has good quality of life, and euthanasia is the kindest choice you can make. Together with your family veterinarian, we can help you decide when, how, and where your pet should spend her final moments, to ensure her passing is peaceful. Do you think your pet is ready for a palliative-care plan? Contact your family veterinarian or our hospital for guidance.