Supporting Your Aging or Ill Pet: Hospice and Palliative Care
It can be a difficult to talk about death, but this can leave pet owners unprepared to face the reality of a dying pet. Some vets internationally are now providing a service similar to Hospice in humans called Animal Hospice. Immediate euthanasia is no longer the only option. Animal Hospice can fill the gap between the time of receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness or old age decline, and death. It provides support up until the natural death or euthanasia of your pet.
What is Animal Hospice
Animal hospice is support and care for dying pets and their families. The service helps the pet to live the remainder of its life as comfortably as possible, and helps to provide the family with a degree of preparation for death. Animal Hospice recognises dying as a natural process and addresses the physical, psychological, and social needs of animals with chronic or life-limiting conditions. It also promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual support for caregivers, valuing and honouring the bond between humans and animals. Hospice care typically applies to pets that have days or weeks left to live.
A Team to Support You
Animal Hospice involves a team of:
- Vet nurses
- Volunteers with hospice experience
- Bereavement counsellors
- Animal chaplains
- Funeral and memorial services
- Mental health professionals
- Physical therapists
Members of this team regularly communicate with each other in order to best help support pet parents, allowing them to have a say about what their pet’s unique needs are and what their own needs are, and how they can be met by the team.
Benefits of Hospice Care
- Comfort of Home
The pet is usually treated at home in its own familiar environment rather than the clinical and often stressful environment of a vet’s clinic.
- Pain Relief
The pet receives high quality pain relief and care. Daily monitoring is carried out and recorded on Pain scale charts and Quality of Life charts adapted from human medicine.
- Grief Support
Anticipatory grief is a normal response to realising that your pet’s life is coming to an end. Pet parents are supported by the hospice team before and after the death.
- Euthanasia Alternative
Hospice supports natural death when it is appropriate for the pet and the caregivers and it can be a profound experience to accompany your pet to its very last breath at the end of its life. However, euthanasia is always an option at any stage of the dying process if needed.
“When done well, Animal Hospice and Palliative Care will help caregivers of ill and dying animals ease into an acceptance of death. It can provide time for caregivers to adjust emotionally to the loss of their animal and can reduce the stresses arising from end of life decision making and care”. -The International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care
A Step Before Hospice: Palliative Care
Palliative care is the active, total care of animals with an eventually terminal illness that isn’t curable. The service helps to control pain and other physical symptoms, as well as supporting the family in their grief. Palliative care can go on as long as needed- for months, or even years in chronically ill pets, and may lead to a hospice type approach at the end stages of life.
Empowered by Choice
Pet parents do have the right to be included in decision making about end of life care for their pets; after all, as the primary care givers they know their animals better than anyone else. A hospice approach allows time to include and consult with all family members before making any big decisions. This can help to prevent feeling rushed into a premature euthanasia, which may cause complicated grief.
Always feel free to seek another opinion and find a vet who will listen to you and work with you in your pet’s end of life care. Animal Hospice is not a mainstream option in Ireland yet, but the more pet parents look for this approach, the more likely it will be provided. Vets are more aware of the special bond people have with their pets and many are providing palliative care and grief support at end of life. It is important to surround yourself with a team who is there to help you care for your dying pet and grieve their loss in thoughtful and supportive ways.
- Grief Support Information
This guidance is for general information purposes only. Allianz are not affiliated with the undertaking of pet Hospice Care. Information accurate as of September 2019.
About the author:Allianz in-house vet and qualified psychotherapist.
Date:September 11th, 2019