Pet Hospice Care: Why You Should Consider It

If your pet is getting older or has an incurable illness, you might be wondering how you can keep them comfortable. Our White House vets explain hospice care for dogs and cats.

What does dog and cat hospice care do?

As a pet owner, it can be heartbreaking and overwhelming to realize that your furry friend is approaching the end of their life. Whether they've been struggling with health issues for some time or have recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may be feeling conflicted about wanting more time together while also not wanting them to suffer.

But you don't have to face this alone. Pet hospice care is available to help you and your beloved pet. This type of care can help maintain your pet's quality of life and ensure they are as comfortable as possible during their final days. It's normal to feel a range of emotions during this difficult time, but remember that there is support available to you.

Veterinarians can provide supportive hospice care for pets with degenerative diseases or terminal illnesses, helping to manage their symptoms, reduce pain, boost their energy level and stimulate appetite.

While your pet won't be cured, this time in hospice care (also referred to as palliative care) can give you two more time together. We often advise clients to consider pet hospice care a link between wellness care and euthanasia. At this phase, pet owners have made the difficult choice to decline to pursue curative therapies for their pet's life-threatening illness.

With decades of skill in expertise in veterinary care, our team at White House Animal Hospital can help you develop a compassionate end-of-life plan geared to your pet's specific needs, including performing a complete quality-of-life exam, prescribing food and medication to manage pain and offering humane euthanasia. 

When is hospice care a good option?

If your veterinarian has determined that your furry companion has a life-limiting illness, is exhibiting signs of clinical decline, or is entering old age, it may be beneficial to learn more about hospice care for dogs and cats. It would be wise to initiate a discussion if your pet is afflicted with any of these medical conditions.

  • Cancer or other incurable illness 
  • Long-term disability such as neurological disease or advanced arthritis 
  • A disease for which diagnostics or aggressive therapy options have been declined in favor of comfort care
  • A long-term or progressive disease such as kidney disease, liver failure or heart failure

In addition, it's pertinent to consider whether your pet is in severe pain or is still engaged with their environment, surroundings and family. 

How can I tell if my pet is in pain?

As pet owners who adore our furry friends and have shared a significant part of our lives with them, the thought of them suffering or having a diminished quality of life is heartbreaking. Nonetheless, we may have to confront this issue at some point in our pet's life. It is crucial to recognize the signs that indicate our pet's quality of life may be deteriorating. If your pet is experiencing more bad days than good ones, it's advisable to visit your veterinarian to discuss possible next steps.

  • Not eating or drinking well 
  • Sleeps a lot 
  • Seems depressed 
  • Losing weight 
  • Reduced activity level 

If your pet is dealing with severe pain, they may gradually start to show subtle symptoms such as: 

  • An increase or decrease in grooming behaviors 
  • Panting or changes in breathing 
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control 
  • Being hesitant to play or jump onto higher services (due to joint pain)
  • Other problems with mobility and moving their body 
  • Hiding or not interacting with others like they used to 
  • Exhibits aggressive behavior 
  • Increased vocalizations (howling or meowing) 

Remember that each animal will be unique, and your pet may continue to eat, drink or try to do activities despite disorientation or pain. They may not cry, whimper or display other outward signs normally associated with pain. 

The best way to tell whether your pet's specific symptoms are related to their condition or something to be concerned about based on their medical history and status is to ask your vet.

How can I help my pet be comfortable at the end of their life?

If you and your pet are spending their last days together, we want this to be a peaceful period for both of you. Our team's essential priorities will be alleviating pain and reducing stress.

That's why it's important to have your White House veterinarian perform a comprehensive physical exam to check for underlying health concerns that should be treated. 

To ensure your pet's comfort, you can provide an extra cozy bed with plenty of cushions and their favorite toys within reach. In some cases, pets may experience incontinence in their later years, which can lead to soiling or wetness in their living space.

You may consider using a sling or placing a towel down to assist your pet in urinating or defecating. This will help to prevent any discomfort for your furry friend.

How much does dog and cat hospice care cost?

The cost for pet hospice ranges widely depending on the level of service and location where support is being offered. Our team of veterinarians focuses on doing everything in our power to help ensure that your four-legged family member's final days or weeks are calm, comfortable and free from pain.

We can work with you to address any questions or concerns you may have, develop an individualized plan geared to your pet's needs and provide a cost estimate for any services that may be required. And of course, we are always here to provide comfort and support to pets and their families. 

What should I ask my veterinarian about end-of-life care?

If you're looking for suitable end-of-life and pet hospice care for your cat or dog, you may have a lot of queries. To help you find the right service providers, here is a list of options to consider.

  • Do you provide pet healthcare and pet hospice care services, and can they be customized to fit my and my pet's needs?
  • Are there any aspects of my pet's health condition that require further clarification or testing?
  • Which treatments or solutions would be best for my pet, and why?
  • Are there side effects for any recommended treatments or medications I'll need to watch for?
  • Are you able to provide a cost estimate for hospice care services?

As end-of-life pet care is always a deeply personal decision, it's also prudent to consider the time, emotional and financial investment you and your family can devote to your pet's care. Of course, it can be difficult to consider your pet's treatment may be limited by budget constraints.

However, finances are a big part of most pet owners' decisions. Always be reasonable and honest with yourself and loved ones based on your current capacity, capabilities and values. In addition, do not be hard on yourself; remember that your financial circumstances are not a measure of the love you feel for your pet. 

Also, you might consider what your pet would want. Consider your pet's overall quality of life, and whether they are still enjoying daily routines, activities, meals, etc. If your pet is unlikely to regain well-being and an improvement to quality of life with treatment, might it be kinder to consider hospice care or euthanasia?

How can I deal with the loss of a pet?

Experiencing a range of emotions while grieving the loss of a pet is completely normal. Pets are often a significant part of our lives, and we cherish the memories we have shared with them. If you feel the need to honor your pet's memory, consider sharing happy memories with trusted family and friends, especially those who are also pet owners.

You may find comfort in joining pet loss support groups like the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, or local groups in your area. Remember that you are not alone in your grief, and there are resources available to help you through this difficult time.

If you have children, you may also consider how to involve them in the decision-making process, as well as conversations and memorials. 

If you feel the need for counseling services, look to your local veterinary college for options. You might consider speaking to a healthcare provider if your feelings if you are experiencing severe or persistent feelings of grief and loss. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your pet is reaching the end of their life, our compassionate team of veterinary professionals in White House is here for you. Contact us today to learn more about your options.