What is Hospice Care?
As pet parents, we get to spend what seems like a few precious years with our four-legged friend. One of the most difficult choices we face is when it's time to let our beloved companion go.
Whether your furry friend is in his golden years or has been diagnosed with a terminal or incurable illness, dealing with this impending loss can bring on many emotions.
This is where our team at Ellenton Animal Hospital can help by providing hospice and end-of-life care. We do everything we can to ensure your pet's final days or weeks are calm, comfortable and free from pain, including a comprehensive quality of life exam, prescribing food and medication for pain management and offering humane euthanasia.
Preparing for Hospice & End-of-Life Care
Also known as palliative care, pet hospice care is administered as a pet approaches the end of its life.
Following are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive from clients regarding hospice and end-of-life care.
Hospice & End-of-Life Care FAQs
- What is pet hospice care?
When a pet reaches this phase, its owner has made the decision to withdraw or decline the pursuit of curative therapy for life-limiting illnesses.
Our vets bring decades of expertise and skill in veterinary care to help create a compassionate end-of-life plan geared to your pet's needs.
- What are some signs my pet may be ready to pass?
- Weight loss
- Hides or withdraws from people
- Some behavioral and physiological signs that your pet may be ready to pass include:
- Extreme fatigue or loss of energy
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Change in appetite or loss of appetite
- Erratic breathing
- Is in pain
Remember that each animal is unique and that your pet may continue to eat or drink even if they are in pain or disoriented. They may not exhibit any of the telltale signs normally associated with pain, such as whimpering or crying.
Please consult your vet, as they will be able to tell you whether these symptoms are abnormal or alarming based on your pet's medical history.
- How can I help my pet feel healthy and comfortable at home at the end of their life?
During this time, you can help make your pet more comfortable by ensuring they aren't experiencing distress or in pain.
Have your vet conduct a complete physical exam to ensure there are no underlying health issues that need to be treated.
Make sure they have their favorite items or toys within close reach.
Since your pet may spend a significant amount of time in bed, make sure this area has lots of cushions and is comfortable.
If your pet is incontinent (has lost control of her bladder), check their living area often to make sure it isn't wet or soiled. You may choose to use a towel or sling to help get your pet up to urinate or defecate if needed.
- How can I prepare for euthanasia?
After a quality of life assessment has been completed to make sure all other alternatives have been exhausted, we may send your pet home with you with pain management medications until your appointment.
We may be able to schedule your appointment time when the clinic is likely to be more quiet, such as at the very beginning or end of the day. However, this is not always possible with unpredictable illnesses or injuries.
If you have children, providing age-appropriate explanations of what will happen in advance may help to prepare them for losing their furry friend.
You might consider bringing your pet's bed, a comfortable pillow or blanket with you for them to rest on.
If you have other pets, you may decide to bring them to the appointment, so they can understand the loss and sniff your pet's body after euthanasia.
You may decide to sit with your pet, so you can comfort them while the vet provides the medicine via injection.
- What will happen during the euthanasia process?
You will be asked whether you'd like to stay with your pet for the euthanasia. This is an important point to consider - some people are not emotionally capable, and whichever choice you make is okay.
You may choose to be present while he or she is sedated, then leave the area during the euthanasia itself. You might also ask a family member or friend that your pet knows and likes to take your pet to this final appointment or to stay with your pet while you leave the room.
A powerful sedative will be injected directly into your pet's vein to cause the nerves in your pet’s body to cease sending signals (including pain signals).
Your pet's breathing and heart rate will slow until they eventually stop. This may take as little as a few minutes or up to 15 to 20 minutes depending on your pet, their condition, and other factors. The euthanasia solution will then be injected. Brain function will then stop.
Many pets take a final, deep breath as they pass away. Some will urinate or defecate when they are euthanized due to the total relaxation that occurs.
Euthanasia is not painful for animals. Afterwards, your pet's eyes may be open. If you wish, your vet can close them.
The vet will listen to your pet's heart with a stethoscope to confirm that they are gone. We like to allow owners as much time with your pet as you need following the procedure, and are committed to treating every pet owner with as much sensitivity and compassion as possible. The entire process typically takes 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- What happens after euthanasia?
You can choose what happens to your euthanized pet's body. You may keep the body to bury personally, have it buried in a pet cemetery, or choose cremation. It may be helpful to consider this decision well in advance.
People and pets are unique, and each may respond differently to the loss of your pet. Children may have questions or feel very sad for a few weeks.
Adults may feel a range of emotions, from heavy grief to guilt, sadness or emptiness, or relief that their pet is free of pain and that their condition will no longer have to be managed. As vets, we have seen the entire range of emotions, and all are valid and normal.
Remember to take care of yourself afterwards. Talk to friends and family, or you may choose to join a pet loss support group. If you notice persistent feelings of grief that are interfering with you or family members' mental health, you may wish to consider mental health counseling.
Memorializing Your Pet
Many pet owners find that saying goodbye is a difficult decision. Sometimes, while it may be the most compassionate choice we can make in our animal's final stage of life, the process can still feel heartbreaking and difficult.
You might wish to honor your pet's memory by memorializing him or her in a way that keeps them close to your heart and in your memories.
You might choose to do this by hosting a memorial service and inviting friends and family. Another idea: Create a living memorial with a plant or tree, headstone, or other special spot that you can visit whenever you miss your pet.
The option you choose can be as unique as your pet's personality and provide comfort to the people who loved and cared for your furry companion.