By Dr. Mary Gardner
November 3rd 2012 is National Veterinary Hospice Awareness day so I thought it was appropriate to post a blog on what veterinary hospice is. It can mean a lot of things to many people.
If you have ever cared for a geriatric or terminally ill pet, then you know what it’s like to hear those dreaded words, ‘There is nothing more we can do’ ; or even worse if your veterinarian simply says, ‘Call me when it’s time…you will know when that is.’ However this does not mean that euthanasia is the only option available to you. Pet Hospice is an emerging field in veterinary medicine and is a unique approach to your pet’s end-of-life needs. It focuses on maintaining comfort and quality of life for of your pet, not at finding a cure for his or her disease.
As a veterinarian that solely practices in-home hospice and euthanasia, I have been given the unique privilege to help families during what I believe is the most important time they have with their pet. So often a pet owner who has just heard that their pet has a terminal illness needs time: Time to think, time to adjust, and time to make decisions. Veterinary hospice care supports both pet and family during this time.
The first and most important step in hospice care is educating yourself about your pet’s medical condition.
You need to know what to expect in those last few months, weeks, days, and/or hours in order to make the best decision for you, your pet, and your family.
The second step is making sure your pet is treated palliatively. This means your pet is being medically treated for comfort or anxiety. Veterinary hospice is not about giving them such high doses of strong medication that they can’t function; it’s about making sure they feel good throughout the day and have a comfortable full night’s sleep.
The third step in hospice care is evaluating Quality of Life. This can be very subjective terminology and is highly dependent on the disease process your pet is experiencing, your pet’s personality, and your personal beliefs. Determining quality of life is made easy when you have a scale and diary to help guide you. There are many Quality of Life scales available online. After giving your pet a ‘grade’ you can determine where they are in terms of their condition and if medical intervention or even euthanasia is appropriate.
Hospice is not synonymous with euthanasia, although euthanasia should be discussed and can be a part of a hospice program. We all wish for a peaceful natural passing but it is not always that simple, fast or painless. As pet parents we are responsible for making sure our pets do not suffer – even if that means we have to suffer a little ourselves and make tough decisions.
For more information on hospice – visit our site: www.lapoflove.com
Vet Mary Gardner
Dr. Mary is one of the Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice founders and has helped hundreds of families in South Florida with end of life care for their pets.