What is Hospice Care?
One of the most difficult choices we'll face as pet parents is when and how to let our beloved family member go.
Whether your best friend is in her golden years or has been diagnosed with a terminal or incurable illness, you may be feeling many emotions as you process this impending loss.
This is where our hospice and end-of-life care team at All Creatures Great and Small Animal Hospital can assist in the decision-making process.
We do everything we can to ensure your pet's final days or weeks are calm, comfortable and free of pain, including conducting a comprehensive quality of life exam, prescribing medication and food for pain management, and offering humane euthanasia.
Preparing for Hospice & End-of-Life Care
Also known as palliative care, pet hospice care can be provided as a pet approaches the end of its life.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we've received from clients regarding hospice and end-of-life care.
Hospice & End-of-Life Care FAQs
- What is pet hospice care?
During this phase, pet owners have chosen to decline or withdraw pursuit of curative therapy for illnesses that limit an animal's life.
Our vets bring decades of skills and expertise in veterinary care to help you create a compassionate end-of-life plan geared to your pet's needs.
- What are some signs my pet may be ready to pass?
Some behavioral and physiological signs that your pet may be ready to pass include:
- Is in pain
- Weight loss
- Erratic breathing
- Extreme fatigue or loss of energy
- Change in appetite or loss of appetite
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Hides or withdraws from people
Remember that each animal is unique, and your pet may continue to eat or drink despite disorientation or pain. They may not show outward signs normally associated with pain, such as crying or whimpering.
Please consult your vet, as they will be able to tell you whether these symptoms are abnormal or alarming based on your pet's medical history.
- How can I help my pet feel healthy and comfortable at home at the end of their life?
During this time, you can make your pet more comfortable by making sure they aren't in pain or experiencing distress.
Have your vet perform a complete physical exam to ensure there are no underlying health issues that need to be treated.
Make sure they have their favorite items or toys within close reach.
Since your pet may spend a significant amount of time in bed, make sure this area has lots of cushions and is comfortable.
If your pet is incontinent (has lost control of her bladder), check their living area often to make sure it isn't wet or soiled. You may choose to use a towel or sling to help get your pet up to urinate or defecate if needed.
- How can I prepare for euthanasia?
After the quality of life assessment to ensure all other alternatives have been exhausted, we may send your pet home with you with pain management medications until your appointment.
We may be able to arrange your appointment time when it is likely to be quieter at the hospital, such as at the very beginning or end of the day. However, with unpredictable illnesses or injuries, this is not always possible.
If you have children, it can help to provide age-appropriate explanations of what will happen in advance to prepare them for losing their furry friend.
You may consider bringing your pet's bed, or a comfortable blanket or pillow, with you for them to rest on.
If you have other pets, you may choose to bring them to the appointment, so they can understand the loss and sniff your pet's body following euthanasia.
You may decide to sit with your pet so you can comfort them while the vet provides the medicine via injection.
- What will happen during the euthanasia process?
You will be asked whether you'd like to stay with your pet for euthanasia. This is an important point to consider - some people are not emotionally capable, and whichever choice you make is okay.
You may choose to be present while he or she is sedated, then leave the area during the euthanasia itself. You might also ask a family member or friend that your pet knows and likes to take your pet to this final appointment or to stay with your pet while you leave the room.
A powerful sedative will be injected directly into your pet's vein to cause the nerves in your pet’s body to cease sending signals (including pain signals).
Your pet's breathing and heart rate will slow until they eventually stop. This may take as little as a few minutes or up to 15 to 20 minutes depending on your pet, their condition, and other factors. The euthanasia solution will then be injected. Brain function will then stop.
Many pets take a final, deep breath as they pass away. Some will urinate or defecate when they are euthanized due to the total relaxation that occurs.
Euthanasia is not painful for animals. Afterwards, your pet's eyes may be open. If you wish, your vet can close them.
The vet will listen to your pet's heart with a stethoscope to confirm that they are gone. We like to allow owners as much time with your pet as you need following the procedure, and are committed to treating every pet owner with as much sensitivity and compassion as possible. The entire process typically takes 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- What happens after euthanasia?
You can choose what happens to your euthanized pet's body. You may keep the body to bury personally, have it buried in a pet cemetery, or choose cremation. It may be helpful to consider this decision well in advance.
People and pets are unique, and each may respond differently to the loss of your pet. Children may have questions or feel very sad for a few weeks.
Adults may feel a range of emotions, from heavy grief to guilt, sadness or emptiness, or relief that their pet is free of pain and that their condition will no longer have to be managed. As vets, we have seen the entire range of emotions, and all are valid and normal.
Remember to take care of yourself afterwards. Talk to friends and family, or you may choose to join a pet loss support group. If you notice persistent feelings of grief that are interfering with you or family members' mental health, you may wish to consider mental health counseling.
Memorializing Your Pet
For many pet owners, the day they say goodbye is a devastating occasion. Sometimes, the process can still feel difficult and heartbreaking even if we know we are making the kindest choice in an animal's final stage of life.
You might wish to commemorate your pet's memory by memorializing him or her in a way that keeps them close to your heart. You may choose to do this by hosting a memorial service with friends and family. Another idea is to create a headstone, living memorial with a tree or plant, or other special spot that you can visit whenever you miss your pet.
The option you choose can be as unique as your pet's personality and provide comfort to everyone who knew, loved and cared for your furry companion.