What is hospice care and how can it benefit our pets? 

As a vet that has cared for elderly pets at home for more than a decade, I sometimes forget that not everybody knows what hospice care means. Unless we are faced with caring for someone who is elderly (whether two- or four-legged) in the last stage of their life, we would not necessarily know what this looks like. 

I would like to explain what hospice care means to me and hope this can help others understand what it could mean for their pet. 

Hospice is much better known from human medicine, and a lot of us will have known someone who has been in hospice care. Sometimes people are cared for at home, sometimes away from home. Hospice care in pets in some ways is similar, but in other ways it differs. 

So first, let us get rid of the common misconception that hospice is a place, a building, somewhere where someone will go to die. When we speak of hospice care, we mean the way someone is cared for at the end of their life. It is a way of caring, and not curing. It is the thoughts and goals behind it that are different.  

When a pet is approaching the end of their life, or if they have an illness that cannot be cured, we as vets shift our focus. So instead of trying to fix the illness, we start trying to make them feel the best they can whilst dealing with their illness. By making them feel better we can make their quality of life better and take away suffering. 

So how do we make someone who has a terminal illness feel better? Well, it will depend very much on what illness they have, and how they are feeling in the first place. So, for example if someone is feeling pain, we can help by treating the pain: if someone is feeling nauseous, we help by treating the nausea, and so on.  

In addition to the physical welfare, we also help figuring out how to make them feel well emotionally. We are considering the family’s view on life, religion, and beliefs. We help by making sure that everyone involved understands what is going on and what to expect, and we can help by making plans and preparing. 

So how is hospice different in pets?  

Although for a human hospice care is not limited to their home with pets this is different. 

“Where do you want to be when you do not feel well? You want to be home. And for dogs and cats, home is their sanctuary; it is their safe place. These are the people they trust. These are the things that smell like them. This is where their happy place is.” 

At Dignipets we try our best to keep pets out of the hospital and to give pet owners the tools and knowledge to care for their pet in their own home environment. Hospice care would involve a home assessment, disease education, what to do in a crisis, crisis kits and and attaining a preparation for the passing of your pet. 

Because a significant difference is that for pets, at the end, we can choose to let them go in a peaceful manner. In my experience, most pet owners will choose euthanasia over natural death. As a lot of conditions are not developing into a peaceful natural passing. It helps giving us control over how the experience will be for our pets by giving them the biggest chance of passing gently and with dignity. And to do this where they feel best which is at home. 

For me, the journey of hospice care gives opportunity to make more memories before having to say goodbye. It is a time to do all those things on the bucket list, and really appreciate just being in the moment.  

Being a hospice vet has taught me so much about the human animal bond, and I always feel so grateful being a part of someone’s journey. Our team offers hospice consultations as well as quality of life assessments, for more information or to book an appointment please contact us at [email protected] 

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