Everything You Need to Know About Pet Hospice Care

Senior black cocker spaniel outside on grass

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As your dog or cat ages or is diagnosed with a terminal illness, pet hospice care might be an option to help pet parents keep their beloved furry friend comfortable for as long as possible. It's helpful for pet owners to understand not only what hospice care is but also how to provide it and whether or not it's the best option for their pet.

What Is Pet Hospice Care?

Hospice care is also known as palliative care because it provides comfort to pets as they near the end of their life. There may not be a cure for an illness but with hospice care, a pet parent may be able to manage their pet's symptoms, keep them comfortable, and maintain their happiness for a longer period of time. The goal of hospice care is to maintain a good to fair quality of life and help an elderly or sick pet transition comfortably into their final days. It is not a cure for a disease or a replacement to euthanasia, but good hospice care may delay an inevitable decrease in quality of life and therefore the need for euthanasia or a natural death.

What Treatments and Services Does Pet Hospice Care Include?

Hospice care is provided at home, not at the veterinary hospital, where a pet is most comfortable. There are companies that can come into a home and help create an ideal environment for a pet parent to care for their specific pet as well as help provide that care to the pet. Working closely with a veterinary team is also important to ensure the proper medications and treatments are administered and altered as needed. Hospice care can also give a family time to say their goodbyes and provide closure and comfort for both the humans and the pet.

There are many illnesses and medical conditions that a pet in hospice care may be experiencing so the treatments that this type of care provides will vary from pet to pet. Hospice care can include:

  • Regularly administering fluids, injections, or oral medications
  • Providing extra padding or raised beds
  • Manual bladder expression and/or extra sanitary cleaning
  • Assistance in walking or standing up
  • Muscle strengthening exercises
  • Changing diapers
  • Syringe or hand feeding

Hospice care treatments are not cures but they can help keep a pet comfortable and potentially delay the need for euthanasia.

How Do You Know If Your Pet Is Ready for Hospice Care?

If you are unsure whether or not your pet is ready for hospice care, start by discussing your pet's needs and prognosis with your vet. Because hospice care is for pets that need extra care and comfort, those that still have a fair to good quality of life and are in their senior years or have been diagnosed with a terminal illness may be good candidates. Hospice care pets may also be referred to as special needs, high maintenance, or medical care pets, but some pets that carry these labels may already have a poor quality of life. If this is the case, they unfortunately may already be beyond the support that longterm hospice care can provide.

Even if euthanasia is inevitable though, pet parents that may need a few days to say their goodbyes may find temporary hospice care to still be beneficial in the short term. There isn't a specific period of time that hospice care has to last, especially because every pet's needs are different. Providing extra comfort to the pets that need it, for as long or as short as it is needed, is the goal of hospice care.

How Do You Assess Your Pet's Quality of Life?

There are some questionnaires and scales that can help you and your vet assess your pet's quality of life, including options from Lap of Love, The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, Dr. Alice Villalobos, and other reputable sources. They will all make you think about your pet's mental and physical well being.

If your pet stops doing things they once enjoyed like enjoying treats, playing with toys, eating, or going on walks, or they begin to do things they've never done before, like growl, bite, or have accidents in the house, these may all be signs that its quality of life is diminishing. Have open and honest conversations with your vet to help evaluate your pet's quality of life to help you make the best decision for your pet.

How to Decide Between Hospice Care and Euthanasia

While hospice care is for pets that require extra care and comfort, some pets won't truly benefit from it no matter how much support you provide. These pets may unfortunately only benefit from a humane way to permanently relieve their pain and suffering, known as euthanasia.

Euthanasia is something no pet parent wants to discuss, but it is unfortunately unavoidable for many ill and older pets. Hospice care can be a temporary means to prevent a poor quality of life from getting even worse, but euthanasia may ultimately be the best gift a pet owner can give a hurting pet. Assessing your pet's quality of life with your vet will help you make the choice between hospice care and euthanasia, but you will also need to take into consideration what type of care is reasonable—financially, physically, and time wise—for you to provide to your pet.