Animal Hospice and Palliative Care:

Loss of our animal companions can be an extremely painful experience. Very often, they become members of the family, and bring so much joy and love into our lives that when the time comes to part ways we are not prepared for it. Death is as natural to life as birth and it reminds us to be grateful for the time we have with our loved ones. The support of animal hospice can be helpful to the human family members as well as the beloved animal approaching death.

What is animal hospice? It is basically end-of-life care for our animals. The hospice philosophy, taken from the human system of end-of-life care, supports the entire family as they face the loss of a loved one. The primary difference from human hospice care is that with animals we do have the choice of euthanasia when it is necessary, or if we are not able to provide the intensive care sometimes needed to support death. Animal hospice provides a space for discussion of the animal's needs as well as what is right for the family. We discuss the animal's quality of life, and look for ways to support that with palliative care and love. These needs are different for each individual animal and family situation.

Palliative care is comfort care that can be provided at any stage of life, but is especially important when curative care is no longer possible. We acknowledge that the end of this life is near and our goals change from curing disease to palliating, providing comfort and supporting the life that is left. Hospice and palliative care is truly about life, supporting and honoring the life of our loved one.

Planning for end-of-life care should ideally begin at birth or at least adoption. Consider how you will be able to provide for the animal throughout life. These discussions become more frequent during the geriatric years and different levels of comfort care can gradually be introduced. Having an emergency plan in place and considering care options early can remove some of the anxiety and fear associated with the death of a beloved animal companion. Though they certainly do not remove the grief of loss, these conversations can pave the way for a smoother experience when the time comes. Hospice care for animals and their families generally begins with the diagnosis of a terminal condition, though palliative care can be helpful for any geriatric patient to improve their quality of life through pain management, supportive care and modifications of their environment.

TeleHealth conversations can happen in the comfort of your own home. While animal hospice and palliative care physical visits often take place in the home as well, this is not a requirement. Concerns about pain management and other signs of discomfort can be addressed by your local veterinarian. Along with TeleHealth visits, regular physical examinations and check-ins are needed for treatment and to ensure continuity of care. It is also important to identify the closest emergency clinic to your area to be prepared if immediate care is needed.

TeleHealth Consultations can help to identify and focus treatment and care goals to ensure that ongoing comfort care is provided. These virtual visits include conversation and supplemental materials that work toward creating an end-of-life care plan personalized for the individual needs of your family and animal companion. Regular check-ins can be planned for ongoing needs including recommendations for in-person visits with your local veterinarian. For animal hospice patients, arrangements should be made for care in case of emergency by contacting your local veterinary clinic and becoming familiar with emergency hours and availability. End-of-life care plans are dynamic and flexible and are frequently revisited during the hospice journey.

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For more thoughts on animal end-of-life care,
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