As anyone who has already read Courage’s Story: A Pet Quality-of-Life Lesson knows, the care given to Courage during his final year was –at no time – pet hospice care. No; instead we did my utmost to keep him with us as long as possible. And yes; now I sorely regret our decision; it was self-serving. I’d like to make some amends by offering this post on hospice for pets; to best support you in making the choice to provide such care for your ailing pet.
What is Pet Hospice?
Pet hospice, or “veterinary hospice”, is focused on the patient’s needs as well as those of the individual family members. Just like hospice for us humans, pet hospice uses a team approach to supervise the end-of-life care provided to the patient. The practice is “dedicated to maintaining comfort and quality of life for the terminally ill or geriatric pet until natural death occurs or the family elects euthanasia.” (Source)
While rather ‘new’ in the scheme of things, pet hospice is a legitimate practice accepted around the world, as evidenced by the existence of groups like the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care. The association describes hospice care for pets as a way to avoid premature euthanasia. The palliative care of the patient (providing relief from the symptoms, pain, and mental/physical stress) reduces the pet’s suffering and allows for a higher quality of life for all involved.
The Benefits of Hospice for Pets
Because one of the major goals of pet hospice is to preserve –if not enhance– the already-existing closeness between family members and their dying pet, all decisions made must support the well-being of the whole family. It’s a time when friends and neighbors can assist in patient care, making it a fulfilling ‘community’ act of love.
The time spent in providing hospice care for your pet has another benefit: it gives everyone time to accept the truth of his or her impending death; time to say what needs to be said and express your love in hundreds of ways.
Pet hospice can also be a psychological comfort to anyone who abhors the idea of pet euthanasia. Whatever your reason for choosing pet hospice, know this: it’s a big commitment. I know this firsthand, as I was a hospice home visitor for about three years, working to support family member caregivers in providing round-the-clock hospice care for someone they loved.
There’s another benefit: the pet hospice experience can teach participants much about what can be called “dying with acceptance and grace.”
The First Step: Find a Hospice Veterinarian
Out of curiosity, I did a quick internet search using “hospice vet Santa Cruz” as my search phrase. The effort yielded just one such practitioner in the area; you may find none working in your locale. However, I’m not worried as I suspect your current vet is familiar with the practice and can be of great value. After all, he or she already knows a lot about your pet and your family dynamics. While that was challenging, I’ve got to be honest; providing hospice care for someone you love –someone you’ve known for a very long time – is a wholly different, more difficult experience. I think it might simply be because a human being, unlike your pet dog or cat, knows death is coming. And heaven knows; we each have our own feelings about that. Sometimes death is gracefully embraced, but most often we dread both death and what it brings. Our sweet pets don’t share our emotions on the subject.
Loving and Letting Go is Never Easy
If you’ve recently experienced the death of a beloved animal companion, my heart goes out to you. I know from experience it can be challenging to deal with the grief of pet loss; perhaps the tips in a recent post, “Easing a Broken Heart: Pet Loss Grief” can help you through the tougher moments.