Knowing When Hospice Care is Right for your Pet


Welcoming a new pet into your life is easy. Saying goodbye to a pet is truly heartbreaking, especially when you are the one deciding when they make the final transition. For owners, struggling to find the “right” answer can be even more painful than watching your pet suffer, so what is the best way to handle such a tough choice?

There is no right or wrong way, but there is an educated way – and that can make all the difference.

Making Tough Choices About a Sick Pet

No matter how much information and support you have as a pet owner, the decision to euthanize is always a tough one. Pet parents often struggle with the “right time” to let them go, especially if the animal is in a tremendous amount of pain.

“If you have to make some tough choices about a terminally ill or injured pet, it can help to consult with a vet or someone who specializes in hospice or palliative care for pets,” says Dr. Kathleen Cooney, DVM and Owner of Home to Heaven, in-home pet hospice and euthanasia services. “A consult can be so powerful. It helps owners feel calmer, relax about the process, and release fear around what’s to come.”

Aside from being very emotionally invested in the welfare of their pet, Cooney points out that pet owners can sometimes misread fluctuations in the animal’s condition or misinterpret what’s really going on medically. This misunderstanding can make pet owners uneasy, wondering if transition time is close. That’s why she suggests it’s best to have a vet help assess the situation.

“At Home to Heaven, we view euthanasia as relief and death as a side effect. It’s such a personal choice for a pet owner to make, and we want to offer people all the information and support they need to choose what’s best for their pet,” says Cooney. “Educating the family about what is normal or abnormal is one of the most important things we do. The more information a pet owner has, the better decisions they can make.”

“Home to Heaven has vets on call 24 hours a day so clients can call when the moment is close, and we can come to the home and assess the situation thoroughly and with respect,” adds Cooney.

What Pet Owners Need to Know to Prepare for Hospice or Euthanasia

With such a big decision to make and lots of variables to consider, it can help to have a general list of things to think about when considering hospice care for your pet. I’ve listed some key ones here:

What kind of diseases or conditions warrant hospice and/or palliative care?

According to International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, the following conditions often lead to the need for more advanced support:

  • Cancer
  • Organ failure [kidneys, liver and heart are common examples]
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cognitive dysfunction, or dementia
  • Senior pets approaching the end of life
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Any life-limiting condition that is contributing to an excessive burden of caregiving for a family, or treatments/interventions that are unacceptable to the pet

Make plans about how you want to handle a pet’s health situation before a crisis.

When there is a clear plan in place, you can spend time focusing on bonding with your pet, no matter what life brings. If your pet is suddenly facing a life-threatening injury, there’s not a lot of time to make decisions so having a plan in place can really help. Even when diagnosed with a terminal illness, some pets still don’t have a large life window, so a clear plan helps shift focus to the time they have left.

Make sure the family agrees on what needs to be done.

Plans about how you want to help a pet transition are a family decision that should be discussed and shared. Each member of the family has a different connection to the pet, and all opinions should be considered.

Double check medications and doses.

Sometimes the medication dose is insufficient. In fact, it’s a pretty common issue. With some cases, medical conditions can radically improve after an adjustment in medication, and the pet can live for many more months.

A peaceful, natural death still needs to be supported by a vet.

Pain control, management of infections, hygiene and other issues need to be closely monitored to ensure a pain free, peaceful passing.

Why At Home Care is So Powerful

The end of life for a pet is very personal and emotional. The animal has grown with you, shared wonderful memories and is such a large part of your life.

“The focus for Home to Heaven is to provide pet owners with the emotional and medical support they need to help pets through a peaceful transition, while giving them to opportunity to reflect on life with their pet in the comfort of their own home, says Cooney. “Each vet on staff is there to help with the medical assistance necessary, however, we also want to hear the story of your pet’s life and the joy you’ve shared. This is the personal support we truly enjoy providing through at home hospice care.”

If you aren’t sure about how to read some of the signs and symptoms that indicate when your pet is close to passing, check out more detailed information on the Home to Heaven site. Want more information on peaceful, end-of-life care, visit the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care  or look into additional providers in other states.

Photo credit: Talishu

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