Palliative and Hospice Care for End of Life

by | Mar 18, 2015 | Blog

Dr. Robin Westwood has practiced veterinary medicine for over 14 years. She shares her insight on an important but often avoided subject.

As animals age, just like we humans, they may start experiencing physical problems that cause discomfort and/or pain.   In other unfortunate circumstances, these problems may be due to a disease process, such as cancer, kidney, and liver problems to name a few.  These physical problems may be caused by sudden or gradual changes.

Sudden changes include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite and/or extreme lethargy.  Many times these changes will cause you to make an appointment with us for an examination.

The gradual changes may not be apparent to you or your family until symptoms progress.  Some examples of these are gradual weight loss, increase in water consumption or urination, a gradual decrease in activity and intermittent vomiting and/or diarrhea.  To help detect these changes early, it is important to schedule geriatric exams every 6-12 months once your pet is over 7 years of age.  Yearly senior bloodwork is essential to detect early changes in the major organs.  Some conditions, if detected early, can be treated/ controlled with medications/diet to help increase longevity and quality of life.

If your pet is experiencing symptoms/signs that may indicate the end of life, please let us know.  Country Friends Veterinary Clinic understands how important your pet is and we want to be able to provide the best palliative care possible.

Palliative care is the total care of a pet with a life-limiting illness that is not responsive to a curative treatment.  This care includes, control of pain, nausea and other symptoms, addressing psychological and social problems for the pet, and also addressing psychological, social and spiritual problems of their human family.  Palliative care can go on as long as it is needed.

Hospice Care is a plan designed to give palliative care to pets and their families in the final phase of a terminal illness and focus on comfort and quality of life, rather than cure. The goal is to enable patients to be comfortable and free of pain so that they live each day as fully as possible.

This first step to developing a plan for hospice care is to determine the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis, and available treatment options.  The family’s values, beliefs, and resources must be taken into consideration.  Once this is understood a hospice plan may be devised.  This plan includes:

1.  Medical Care: recognizing pain and other symptoms, aggressively treating symptoms, including but not limited to difficulty breathing, pain, nausea, loss of appetite, dehydration, constipation, diarrhea, and mental distress.  Potential complications must be anticipated and side effects of medications must be understood

2.  Nursing Care: monitoring signs/symptoms, assessing any deterioration of the condition, providing medication, minimizing environmental stress, providing comfortable sleeping quarters, assisting pet with standing and walking

3.  Support of the Family:  This includes veterinary staff and family members actively listening to owners feelings, validating their experiences and showing empathy, facilitating coping and decision making, and providing information and other resources.

Your responsibilities as a pet parent are monitoring your pet’s comfort and quality of life, as you know your pet best, communicating with us any changes that are occurring, and making decisions about care.  When the end is near, make sure you have our phone number available and the number for Lake Ray Hubbard Veterinary Emergency Clinic if we cannot be contacted during off hours.

All family members should be aware of what is going on with your pet, even children.  Do not withhold information.  Children should be informed by their parents as soon as possible.  Do not let them find out what is going on by someone other than you.  Be honest and do not lie.  If possible let them help with the decision-making process, this may help them with their grief.  Allow them the time to say their goodbyes.  If you have any questions or concerns with this, let us know.  We can help.

Please come back next week for the second installment of this series, where Dr Robin Westwood will share more information about end of life choices for your beloved pet. In the meantime, she has provided these additional resources:

International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care

The Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets

Peaceful Passings, Inc.

Spirits in Transition