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Hospice Therapy Dogs: Vet-Reviewed Benefits for Patients

Written by: Ashley Bates

Last Updated on June 17, 2024 by Dogster Team

Tumor patient caressing her dog during pet therapy

Hospice Therapy Dogs: Vet-Reviewed Benefits for Patients


Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo


Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Going through the final stages of life can be frightening. No matter how strong one’s mental foundation is, dying isn’t something that most humans want to go through, even though of course, it’s one of the few inevitable certainties in life.

As is the case for most things, dying can seem a little less scary with a dog by your side, so it’s no wonder that hospice therapy dogs are picking up in popularity. If this is your first time hearing about these important pups, read on to learn more about them, especially if you or a loved one is entering hospice.

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How Do Hospice Therapy Dogs Work?

We can all be impressed with our canine companions. They are intelligent and capable of learning about a broad spectrum of different jobs and services. When training for specific kinds of therapy, they must undergo extensive training in the subject. This can take months and even years, depending on the type of service a dog will do.

When it comes to hospice therapy, a dog will come to spend time with a person during this transition. The person can feel the dog’s presence, pet them, or do whatever they are capable of doing to take their mind off of the situation or just to ease their anxiety.

Often, just the dog’s presence alone will comfort a person. These dogs will have handlers who will control the duration and interaction of the visits, so they can also provide companionship to others in hospice care.

Beautiful golden retriever dog running playing fetch
Image Credit: Birgit Reitz-Hofmann, Shutterstock

What Types of Dogs Are Best Suited for This Role?

Certain breeds are often selected due to their extreme trainability. Examples include Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Poodles, and Labrador Retrievers. You might also see German Shepherds or similar breeds in this role.

These dogs are required to complete an obedience training program or pass an obedience test before being considered for use as hospice therapy dogs. Once they are fully trained in the field, they are placed with facilities or private owners to carry out the task. Having a hospice therapy dog is something that people can do for a company or on their own as a business entity.

Where Are Hospice Therapy Dogs Used?

Hospice therapy involving dogs can be used in both medical and private settings. You could elect someone to come to your home or the hospice care unit, depending on where the hospice care is taking place. But keep in mind that there will be a lot more regulations and hoops to jump through if you choose to use hospice therapy dogs in a facility. Some hospitals might not allow this service in their facilities. It’s always best to ask beforehand.

If the person is at home, however, you likely have complete control over the process. Ultimately, it will depend on what you and your loved ones are comfortable with and where your loved one in question is going to reside during this time period.

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Advantages of Hospice Therapy Dogs

There are plenty of advantages of hospice therapy dogs.

1. Dogs Calm Our Heart Rates

It’s a proven fact that dogs can calm our heart rates. That is why so much focus has been shifted toward emotional support animals. It has been proven time and time again that our pets can greatly improve our overall sense of well-being.

When our health starts to decline, it only makes sense that our pet should be there to calm us as we make this transition. It is always beneficial to have your best friend by your side. It can be a great source of stress reduction during this time.

happy dog getting pet by owner
Image Credit: Bachkova Natalia, Shutterstock

2. Dogs Cure Loneliness

Hospice can bring about feelings of intense loneliness, even when loved ones surround us. We might start to feel incredibly alone and afraid of what might lie ahead. Dogs are always there to provide companionship to us. It can make things feel less scary and maybe a little less grim.

3. Dogs Are Intuitive

Dogs are highly intuitive. They are aware of our bodies, rhythms, and emotions, sometimes more than our own species. It is important to understand that dogs may be aware of what’s happening when we’re coming to the end of our lives. They can provide a sense of support, knowing just how much love to give and when it is appropriate to leave your side.

4. Dogs Provide Excellent Distraction

When someone is anxious, dogs can provide a wonderful distraction for them as time progresses. The calming presence of a dog being around will often put the focus on the animal and take your mind off of other things.

Many people genuinely enjoy having this kind of energy around them, so it would certainly benefit quite a few people.

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Disadvantages of Hospice Therapy Dogs

Of course, where there are upsides, there are always downsides.

1. It Can Be Expensive

Any extra service you purchase these days costs a pretty penny. If you are looking for hospice therapy dogs, your jaw might drop to the floor when you see the price tag. It will vary greatly based on your area and the options around you, though.

elderly woman huggine a puppy
Image Credit: Henriethaan, Pixabay

2. It Can Involve Waiting Lists

Hospice is a time-sensitive process. A person can be in hospice for as little as a day or for many months. Since it can vary from person to person, you might be looking at a short timeline. Since this service is in high demand, finding available services might take a lot of work. You could be looking at wait lists or lack of availability.

3. It Can Be Difficult to Locate

While hospice therapy dogs are catching on, it is still not common quite yet. So, depending on where you’re living, it can be hard to find anyone to help you out.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Will Dogs Being Around the Dying Hurt Them?

The dog being present with your loved one will not hurt them. If something doesn’t work out and it doesn’t seem to be the best fit, you can always prevent the dog from coming back in the future. However, if you have a dog lover, this can be a great way for them to calm their nerves and relax.

How Much Do Hospice Therapy Dog Sessions Cost?

The ultimate cost of a hospice therapy dog will depend on the area you live in and the rates of the company or private owner. It will greatly vary, so there really aren’t any good numbers at this time. Since this isn’t quite common yet, it’s also hard to ballpark a solid price.

Can Any Dog Be a Hospice Therapy Dog?

Only properly trained dogs can be certified therapy animals. However, any dog can provide comfort at the end of life. So, if your loved one has a pet that they currently own, it may absolutely benefit them to be near their pet during their final days.

Friendship of human and animal as a means of fighting a tumor
Image Credit: Ground Picture, Shutterstock

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As we evolve as a species, we will constantly think of things that we can do better for ourselves and our furry friends. Although hospice therapy dogs still aren’t super common, they are growing in their usage and can provide companionship and ease the transition into the afterlife by reducing stress and anxiety.

Featured Image Credit: Ground Picture, Shutterstock

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