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Hearing those dreaded words “nothing else can be done” does not mean that euthanasia is the only option you have left. Veterinary hospice care is a unique approach to your pet’s end-of-life needs and is focused on the comfort of your pet if your pet has been diagnosed with an incurable illness or if further therapy options have been declined in lieu of comfort-oriented care. Our goal is to maintain comfort and quality of life for the terminally ill or geriatric pet until natural death occurs or the family elects peaceful euthanasia. There are many things that can be done at home to help your pet be more comfortable in the end-of-life stages.
Hospice care revolves around the client-patient-doctor relationship. Education about your pet’s medical condition is the most important aspect of hospice care, and is what Dr. Daniels spends the most time on. We have informational handouts as well on many common diseases our companion animals suffer from.
You need to know what to expect in those last few weeks, days, and hours in order to make the best decision for you, your pet, and your family. Although we cannot know for sure, we use our medical knowledge to help you make those decisions. We assist you in implementing a plan that will meet your pet’s needs and respect your family’s wishes.
Veterinary hospice care usually includes, but is not limited to:
Dr Daniels will talk to you about signs of pain that are particular to the disease process or geriatric aging your pet is suffering from and what pain management options we have to keep your pet comfortable. Some of the most common signs of pain are heavy panting, pacing, whining, growling, lying in an abnormal posture or abnormal place, or decreased appetite.
We should be just as concerned about anxiety in our pet as we are about pain. Frankly, anxiety is worse than pain in animals. Many end-stage patients begin panting, pacing, whining, and/or crying, but many of these symptoms are due to anxiety, usually arising secondarily from the pain. Due to hormonal fluctuations and other factors, these signs of anxiety usually appear worse at night. Anti-anxiety medications can sometimes work for but for pets that are at this stage, the end is usually near.
Medical appetite stimulants may help your pet become more interested in food. During hospice care though, remember that many pets may become uninterested in food altogether; this is normal. Nutrition at this point is not about a balanced diet but rather about maintaining energy. Trying novel foods may help. Feed your pet different things in different areas of your home at different times of the day. Baby food, ground beef, chicken, and puréed meat have found some success with some patients. Never force-feed your pet, this may cause unnecessary anxiety.
Just as with food, many pets will become uninterested in drinking. You may try low-sodium chicken broth or use a syringe to gently wet the tongue; sometimes this will stimulate a few licks. You may continue to wet the mouth even in the later stages of the dying process, but never force water down your pet’s throat.
Hydration of the eye is something easily over-looked; eye lubricants are also available.
There are many medications and treatments that can help reduce pain and inflammation when mobility becomes an issue. Reliable footing is probably the most important and easiest thing to change in your pet’s immediate surroundings. Non-slip carpets or yoga mats can dramatically decrease slipping. As the problems progress, you may find your pet pacing and panting, particularly at night time. Anti-anxiety and/or pain medication may help him or her sleep more soundly. At some point, medical and external treatments will cease to work and your pet will not be able to stand. This is usually a very difficult thing for pets to experience and you will see signs of anxiety (whining, heavy panting).
Without intervention, animals will develop bed sores, urine scalding, infections, and eventually may have difficulty breathing.
Uncontrolled urination and defecation is normal as our pets age or diseases worsen. Maintaining hygiene is important to prevent sores, urine scalding, and eventually infections. Shaving the hair from these problem areas will keep the skin dry and aid in cleaning. Baby powder and diaper cream can also prevent problems from arising. Choose bedding that is easily cleaned and changed like mattress covers and other water-proof bedding.
As your pet’s guardian, you are the most important person to judge your pet’s happiness. You know him the best and know what he loves to do. Think about the things that make him special to you. When in doubt, simply sit quietly with him and ask him if he’s ready. You’d be surprised at how loudly they can speak to us when we try to listen.