If you have a senior pet whose health is declining, or they have a terminal disease, you may be unsure what steps to take next. If pursuing aggressive treatment seems unreasonable, and you don’t believe your pet is ready for euthanasia, hospice care may be a good option. Our team at Mountain Legacy Veterinary Center wants to help you decide if this approach is right for your pet, so we explain what hospice care entails.

Hospice care versus palliative care for pets

These terms are frequently used interchangeably, but while hospice care can include palliative care, they are different.

  • Hospice care — When curative treatment is no longer an option, hospice care offers the best quality of life possible for pets in their final days.
  • Palliative care — This treatment approach involves addressing a pet’s pain without addressing the underlying disease. Palliative care is typically a component of hospice care.

Hospice care for pets

Hospice care is different for each pet, depending on their condition, and the process can be extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming.  Some factors typically addressed include:

  • Nutrition — As a pet’s health declines, their appetite tends to decline, as well. Ensuring their nutritional requirements are met is important, to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting. Sometimes your pet needs numerous options to get them to eat.
  • Hydration — Dehydration can be detrimental to a pet who already has a compromised health status. Offer numerous clean water sources frequently. Some pets may also require subcutaneous fluids, to maintain their hydration.
  • Mobility — Your pet may suffer from decreased mobility as their condition progresses, and they will need assistance to move around the home, and when they need to relieve themselves. If they are bed-ridden, you will need to turn them occasionally, to prevent bed sores.
  • Cleanliness — Mobility issues may prevent your pet from posturing normally when they relieve themselves, and you will need to clean their coat if an accident occurs.
  • Pain management — Palliative care should be employed to keep your pet as comfortable as possible. Options include pain medications and supplements, physical therapy, and alternative medicine.
  • Mental stimulation — As long as possible, take your pet for walks, and play with them. Once they can no longer handle the physical activity, ensure you spend frequent quality time with them. You can pet them, scratch their favorite spot, or simply sit and talk to them. They need to know you still love and care for them.

Conditions that cause pets to require hospice care

Many conditions that cannot be reasonably treated can affect pets, but if your pet doesn’t seem ready for euthanization, hospice care should be considered. These conditions include:

  • Advanced age — As a pet ages, they can experience debilitating conditions, including arthritis, vision loss, hearing loss, dementia, and incontinence. These issues make caring for them more difficult, and they will require extra attention.
  • Cancer — Depending on the malignancy’s location, your pet can suffer from several problematic issues, including pain, gastrointestinal upset, and appetite loss. Hospice care can help alleviate these problems.
  • Kidney failure — Pets affected by kidney failure frequently don’t exhibit signs until the late stages, and the condition can be effectively managed to prolong their comfort and life as long as possible. Fluid therapy and prescription diets are usually required in these cases.
  • Liver failure — Pets in advanced liver failure can also benefit from hospice care, to prolong their wellbeing. Fluid therapy and medications to alleviate nausea are typically employed.
  • Heart failure — Pets affected by congestive heart failure require prescription diets, medications to help their heart function better, and medications to slow fluid accumulation in their lungs, to improve their comfort level and prolong their life.

Knowing when to let your pet go

Saying goodbye to your pet is one of the hardest parts of being a pet owner, and the decision is extremely difficult. A scale is available to help you assess your pet’s quality of life. Your pet is scored on several factors on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being ideal:

  • Hurt — Does your pet exhibit signs they are in pain, or are they having trouble breathing?
  • Hunger — How is your pet’s appetite? Are they eating enough calories to maintain their body weight?
  • Hydration — Can your pet’s hydration be maintained by drinking, or with subcutaneous fluids?
  • Hygiene — Can your pet groom themselves normally? If not, can you keep their coat clean and dry?
  • Happiness — Does your pet still enjoy interacting with you? Do they like to play and be petted?
  • Mobility — Can your pet still get around normally? Do they exhibit pain signs when they move around? Do they need assistance?
  • More good days than bad — Does your pet have more good days than bad? Once their bad days start outnumbering their good days, you should consider euthanasia.

A score of 35 or lower indicates that your pet’s quality of life has slipped into the unacceptable range, and it may be time to consider allowing them a peaceful passing with euthanasia.

Hospice care is a great option to allow your pet to comfortably stay in your life for a little longer. If you would like to see if your pet is a good hospice care candidate, do not hesitate to contact our team at Mountain Legacy Veterinary Care, so we can evaluate their needs.