It’s no big mystery why pets are so easily considered members of our families – they provide unconditional love and support, are always happy to see us, and don’t hold grudges. And as with our human family members, as these four-legged family members start to age, we find ourselves facing some difficult decisions. We may find ourselves dealing with chronic illnesses or quality of life issues in our pets. Luckily, veterinary medicine is changing in a very special way to address these concerns.
The idea of hospice in human medicine has been around for centuries, though the foundations of modern hospice services were developed in the 1950s. Hospice care is designed for those who are terminally ill, and focuses on pain control and the emotional support of loved ones. This field makes a seamless transition into veterinary medicine, as many owners look for opportunities to spend time at home with their pets in their final days.
Previous to the rise of veterinary hospice care, getting a diagnosis of a terminal disease in a pet often led to immediate euthanasia. Veterinary hospice focuses on palliative care during the time between diagnosis and euthanasia for those owners who choose not to pursue further diagnostics or aggressive treatments.
It is important to remember that palliative care is not “giving up” on your pet. Many owners simply cannot afford aggressive diagnostics and treatments, or they may feel that such measures would cause their pets too much stress. Other people choose hospice care to allow their pets to live their last days in the comfort of their own home. Hospice avoids both the isolation of the intensive care unit and the possibility of inadequate care if a pet is just taken home with no veterinary care. It allows pet parents to truly feel that they have done everything they could to keep their pet comfortable and happy in their final days.
The rise of veterinary hospice is due in part to veterinarians who are willing to provide these services. More and more vets are available to provide home hospice services, including fluid therapy, pain control and even at-home euthanasia when the time is right. Hospice vets can assess your pet at each visit, taking into consideration their general health and quality of life, to ensure that euthanasia is performed neither too early nor too late.
Hospice should be viewed as compassionate care to maintain our pet’s comfort and dignity. It gives owners an option that falls between aggressive treatment and immediate euthanasia, should a terminal illness be found. But more importantly, it gives us, as pet parents, the time we need to spoil our pets and say goodbye in our own time. If you are faced with end-of-life issues with your pet, ask your veterinarian if he/she can provide hospice care, or if they might recommend someone who could. It may make a difficult time just a little bit easier for the whole family.