end of life care for our pets
WHAT IS A HOSPICE PATIENT?
Hospice refers to the end of life care given to a pet who has a terminal disease or is near the end of life but isn’t quite ready to go. Sometimes it’s the family who isn’t quite ready to let go. Hospice care is about keeping the patient as comfortable and happy as possible until they are released into death either on their own or through euthanasia.
COMMON PROBLEMS IN THE HOSPICE PATIENT
Below you will find helpful information when caring for your pet during this time.
Common signs of a pet in pain include: excessive sleeping (pain avoidance), loss of appetite or nausea, panting, pacing, shivering/trembling, growling, crying/whining, abnormal manner of walking, refusal to walk, run, jump or take the stairs, and sleeping in abnormal positions or places. These signs do not always mean a pet is in pain, but careful assessment should take place if these symptoms are noticed.
Many geriatric pets struggle with anxiety. Most pets at this age are losing, or have lost, their hearing and their sight is often diminished due to cataracts and normal aging changes to the eyes. While this may increase the pet’s anxiety, most seem to adjust well as these changes tend to happen gradually.
Nightlights, gates for protection, sound machines, and warm, soft beds in safe and quiet locations, are all things a family can add to the home to help with anxiety. Sometimes pheromone diffusers and anxiety medications are also used to help these patients.
This is one of the more difficult problems, especially for larger pets. Medications are critical to help control pain as much as possible. Equally important is providing footing that is secure and not slippery. Many owners will use various rugs and mats to help their pets.
This is useful but also a tripping hazard for owners, so larger rugs with non-slip pads are the best option. There are several resources in this category to help owners care for senior pets. These are listed below.
APPETITE AND WATER INTAKE
Loss of appetite or disinterest in food and water are common in hospice patients. Do not force food or water down the throat. Instead, try offering a variety of foods to help increase interest. It is best to stay with foods that are not spicy or fatty, such as baby foods, boiled chicken or ground hamburger. Sometimes, appetite stimulants can also be helpful.
The geriatric and hospice patient often develop urinary or fecal incontinence. Keeping them clean is often quite the task but necessary to prevent painful skin infections. We also want to make sure pets are not isolated or losing physical and emotional support from family members because they do not smell nice. Shaving areas of fur where urine and stool accumulate can make cleaning easier.
Waterproof bedding (mattress pads, shower curtains, tablecloths) can help in protecting the surrounding area as well. Diapers can also be useful but must be cared for regularly to prevent wounds and skin infections underneath them. Diaper creams can help protect the skin if the pet can’t get to the area to lick the cream. Raised beds that allow urine to flow through can also be helpful.
YOU are ultimately the best person to decide your pet’s happiness and quality of life. You know what they have always loved to do.
You can use a calendar to keep track of the days over several weeks. Rank at the end of each day whether that day was a good or bad day for your pet. Did they eat? Did they engage with their family? Did they sleep all day?
The tally over a few weeks can help clarify the decisions. In the end, sometimes we just need to listen to our pets and give them permission to rest.
THE NEXT STEPS
Making the decision for euthanasia is agonizing. We can help you with any questions you have. We often recommend marking a calendar with a simple good or bad day symbol. This can make it very clear if the bad days are outweighing the good and help ease the confusion around this difficult decision. See our Geriatric Questionnaire and section on Euthanasia for more information.
You can track your pet's daily quality of life with this chart. To print or download click on the image.