When a beloved pet receives a life-limiting diagnosis, navigating the emotional landscape of their remaining days can feel like charting a course through a storm without a compass. Pet hospice care can serve as the guiding light for both pets and pet parents during these tough times.
Figo Customer Experience Supervisor Jade C. recently shared her personal experience with pet hospice for her cat, Sushi. "He’s doing really well right now, much better than I thought he would be at this point, and it’s all thanks to the hospice care," she notes.
This comprehensive care model can help your pet live their remaining days with the dignity they deserve while supporting you and your family through the process. We're answering all the questions you might have about this emotional but important journey.
What is pet hospice and when is it necessary?
Pet hospice, also known as palliative care, is a specialized approach designed to provide comfort, alleviate suffering, and improve the quality of life for pets facing life-limiting illnesses or old age.
Navigating the initial stages of pet hospice can be overwhelming. Jade shares, "We knew we wanted Sushi to live the rest of his life with dignity and to be as pain-free as possible, but we didn't know where to start. After meeting with the hospice vet, it was like a weight had been lifted."
Pet hospice is a holistic treatment plan that focuses on managing pain and providing necessary medical care while also addressing the emotional and social needs of the pet and their family. Your veterinarian may suggest hospice care under these circumstances:
Curative treatments are no longer effective or viable.
The potential side effects of further treatment could drastically lower the pet's quality of life.
The pet is showing significant signs of old age impacting their quality of life.
The primary aim is to ensure the pet's remaining days are as comfortable and meaningful as possible while supporting the family through this challenging period.
How can I find a veterinarian that offers pet hospice services?
Finding a veterinarian that offers pet hospice services may seem like a daunting task, but there are several avenues you can explore. First, your regular vet is a great place to start – they may be able to provide these services or, at the very least, recommend a trusted colleague who does.
You can also explore online resources such as the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC), which provides a directory of member vets offering hospice care.
Another viable option is to join pet parent forums or social media groups and ask for recommendations. While it might take a bit of research, it's worth it to ensure that your pet receives compassionate and appropriate end-of-life care.
What kind of treatments are offered in pet hospice?
pet hospice, much like human hospice, revolves around making the pet as comfortable as possible in the final stages of their life. The types of treatments can greatly depend on the condition the pet is suffering from and can be tailored to the individual pet's needs. However, some of the most common treatments provided during pet hospice include:
Pain management: This includes medications to reduce any discomfort or pain the pet may be experiencing due to their illness. This can be anything from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to opioids, depending on the level of pain.
Nutritional support: As the pet's illness progresses, they may have difficulties eating or may lose their appetite. Special diets or feeding techniques may be employed to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients.
Hydration therapy: Some pets may need help staying hydrated, which can be addressed through subcutaneous fluids or in severe cases, IV fluids.
Mobility assistance: If a pet's condition affects their mobility, physical therapies and assistance devices (like pet wheelchairs) may be employed.
Comfort measures: This could include anything from comfy beds and blankets to reduce pressure sores, to warming or cooling measures to help regulate body temperature.
Emotional support and enrichment: Maintaining quality of life also involves ensuring that the pet remains mentally stimulated and emotionally supported. This can involve simple measures like gentle play, cuddles, and brushing, or even services like pet massage or music therapy.
Importantly, hospice care is individualized. Jade explains, "Hospice treats Sushi as a patient, not as a diagnosis. The diagnosis was a starting point, but from now on we will let Sushi's actions tell us how to proceed." This personalized approach allows pets to dictate the pace of their care, ensuring they remain comfortable and content.
It's important to note that pet hospice is not about curing the pet's illness but rather about providing them with a peaceful, dignified, and comfortable end-of-life journey. Any treatments used are focused on comfort and quality of life, rather than trying to extend life.
How can I tell if my pet is in pain or suffering?
Recognizing when your pet is in pain can be challenging since our furry companions can't verbalize their discomfort. However, changes in behavior can be a significant telltale sign.
If your pet is hurting, they may:
become more withdrawn or may show a decreased interest in activities they previously enjoyed
exhibit changes in their eating or sleeping patterns
exhibit unusual aggression or irritability.
Physical signs could include:
limping or difficulty moving
excessive licking or grooming of a specific area
changes in posture.
Remember, pets can be masters at hiding discomfort, a behavior that stems from their instinct to not show weakness in the wild. Therefore, it's crucial to stay attuned to any subtle shifts in their behavior, appearance, or habits.
If you suspect your pet is in pain, it's always best to consult with your vet as soon as possible. They can conduct a thorough examination and guide you on the best course of action to alleviate your pet's discomfort.
Can pet hospice happen at home?
Yes, pet hospice can absolutely occur in the comfort of your home. In fact, home-based care is one of the pillars of pet hospice, ensuring that your pet can spend their final days in a familiar and comforting environment, surrounded by the family they love.
A hospice veterinarian or nurse usually visits your home to assess your pet's condition, provide necessary treatments, and guide you in managing their care. The frequency of these visits will depend on your pet's specific needs.
Remember, the goal is to keep your pet comfortable, minimize their stress, and allow them to continue to share meaningful moments with you.
What is the cost of pet hospice care?
The cost of pet hospice care can vary widely based on several factors, including the specific services your pet requires, the frequency of visits, and your geographical location. On average, initial consultations can range anywhere from $150 to $300, with follow-up visits generally costing less.
Certain treatments or medications may also incur additional costs. It's important to discuss these details with the hospice team upfront to understand the potential financial implications.
Some pet insurance policies may cover aspects of hospice care, so it's worth checking with your provider. At Figo, hospice care expenses may be covered if they're not related to a pre-existing condition. Since Jade has a Figo policy, Sushi's hospice was taken care of.
How can I prepare myself and my family for the loss of our pet?
Preparing for the loss of a pet can be an emotionally challenging process. Open communication is key: discuss your pet's condition and what the future might look like with all family members, ensuring everyone understands the situation.
It's okay to express your feelings and support each other in this difficult time. Remembering the happy times you've shared with your pet can also be comforting. Creating a memory box or photo album can be a therapeutic activity to do as a family.
Consider seeking support from pet loss support groups, online communities, or professional counselors who specialize in pet loss. Grieving is a process and it's important to give yourself and your family the space and permission to grieve.
How can pet hospice help my pet maintain a good quality of life?
Pet hospice care is all about prioritizing the quality of your pet's life over the quantity. This is achieved by focusing on managing pain and discomfort, optimizing nutrition and hydration, ensuring your pet can enjoy their favorite activities as much as possible, and offering plenty of emotional support.
It's about adapting to your pet's changing needs and making adjustments to ensure their continued comfort. Through ongoing monitoring and customized care plans, pet hospice can help your pet have more good days, surrounded by the love of their family.
What does end-of-life care look like for pets in hospice?
End-of-life care for pets in hospice is highly personalized and depends on your pet's unique needs and condition. It often includes increased comfort measures, like additional pain management, nutritional support, and physical therapy to maintain mobility as much as possible.
The care team will work closely with you to anticipate and manage any new symptoms or changes in your pet's condition. When the time comes, end-of-life care also includes euthanasia if it's deemed the most compassionate choice.
The process will be planned and carried out in a way that ensures the utmost dignity and minimal discomfort for your pet.
How do I decide when it's time for euthanasia and what does the process involve?
The decision to euthanize a pet is one of the most difficult choices a pet parent can face. Your hospice team will help guide you in this decision, taking into account your pet's quality of life, the progression of their illness, and their comfort levels.
Ultimately, the decision is a deeply personal one that requires you to weigh your pet's well-being and your desire to not let them suffer unnecessarily.
Euthanasia is a peaceful and painless process. It usually involves a sedative to help your pet relax followed by a drug that gently stops their heart.
Your vet will explain the process in detail and answer any questions you may have. The goal is to provide a gentle passing for your pet, without any fear or pain.
Can I stay with my pet during euthanasia?
Absolutely. If it's what you want, and it is safe to do so, most vets will allow and even encourage you to be with your pet during the euthanasia process.
Being present can provide great comfort to both you and your pet in their final moments. However, it's also completely okay if you feel that you can't be there; everyone copes differently, and there is no right or wrong decision.
How can I help my other pets cope with the loss of a companion?
Other pets in your home may notice the absence of their companion and may experience their own form of grief. They might seem down, sleep more than usual, or even search for their missing friend.
It's important to maintain their routines as much as possible and to provide extra attention and reassurance during this time. In some cases, it may help to let your pet see their companion's body after they've passed away, as this can provide closure.
Jade brings to light a lesser-known but integral aspect of hospice care: "Hospice involves the whole family, including other pets in the home." This holistic approach ensures that all family members – including furry ones – receive the emotional support and care they need during this challenging time.
If your pet continues to struggle with the loss, consider seeking advice from a vet or a pet bereavement counselor. The hospice team can also provide guidance on helping your pet navigate their grief.
Pet hospice is a compassionate and comprehensive service, focusing on enhancing the quality of life for pets nearing the end of their journey, while also providing support for their families. It's about treasuring every moment left, celebrating the bond shared, and ensuring a peaceful transition when the time comes.
As Jade so poignantly encapsulates: "We will continue to treat [Sushi] and keep him comfortable for as long as possible... If a hospice treatment begins to affect Sushi's relationship with us, we will make a new plan." And that’s the heart of pet hospice – adjusting, adapting, and providing unconditional love every step of the way.
Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.