Pet hospice. When I ask others what they know about this veterinary specialty, the most common response is, “Oh, those are vets who will put your dying dog to sleep in your own home, right?” Yes, in-home euthanasia is a pet hospice service, one that allows your dog to pass in a more peaceful way.
What most people don’t know is that a pet doesn’t have to be in crisis or have only months or weeks to live for veterinary hospice to benefit them. If you have a senior dog with a chronic condition, this specialty can help make their care more manageable and their life more comfortable.
After considering my own pet hospice experiences, and speaking with Dr. Dawnetta Woodruff with Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and Dr. Christie Cornelius with Last Wishes In-Home Pet Hospice and Euthanasia, I’m eager to share these five reasons to include hospice as part of your older dog’s health plan, even if they have many years left to live.
1. Pet hospice veterinarians are experts in senior (advanced age) and geriatric (fragile health) care
Mobility problems, cognitive changes, neurological disorders, liver and kidney dysfunction, neoplasia, impaired vision and so many other ailments can affect your senior dog, and hospice vets have experience with them all. Dr. Woodruff stated, “I would estimate that 90 to 95 percent of our patients are senior pets, and nearly all are considered geriatric.” With this focused caseload, hospice professionals have keen insight into how to create a comprehensive treatment plan, one that may combine pharmaceuticals, standard plus alternative pain and mobility management, nutrition recommendations and environmental change tools.
For example, Dr. Cornelius told me about a 12-year-old Labrador patient suffering from serious mobility issues and related pain, cognitive changes and sleeping problems. When she was consulted, the doctor knew the dog’s prior treatment (joint supplement tablets and an NSAID, the latter of which was upsetting the dog’s stomach) was not a complete solution.
After thoroughly examining the dog and talking with the pet parents, she presented a recommendation that included the following: continuing the joint supplement tablets, introducing weekly joint function injections, changing to a “more gentle to the GI tract” NSAID, and adding specific night and morning pain prescriptions, massage, acupuncture, laser therapy, range-of-motion exercises and nutritional supplements.
After one week, the patient showed improved mobility, less pain, no GI upset and better sleep. After two weeks, improvement continued, with the dog able to enjoy moderate walks and family playtime! And after four weeks, the Lab’s quality of life was so enhanced that “A Different Dog!” was the family’s description of their pet.
2. Veterinary hospice provides focused care in your home
This means more than just increased convenience and decreased stress. Having a pet hospice provider come into your space allows them to get a more detailed picture of your dog’s life, which results in better understanding and treatment. Your pet’s environment (living space, typical pathways, bed setups), daily activities, meals, walking “gear” and home behaviors can be evaluated. This allows the hospice vet to know what is working well for the pet’s medical conditions and what could be altered.
When Dr. Woodruff entered the life of one 11-year-old canine patient named Chuck, he was restless and having trouble getting up and remaining stable while walking, and also clinging to his family (likely due to pain and anxiety). The doctor was able to not only modify his current NSAID dosing for pain and add two additional pain medications, but also recommend floor mats on his most-traveled pathways and the use of slings and harness supports specific to his mobility needs. Fourteen months after his initial visit, this dog is still doing well.
3. Hospice care teaches you how to be proactive and in tune with your dog’s condition
Education of pet parents is a veterinary hospice priority. They may provide you with questionnaires, so you have a written baseline of your dog’s current conditions, and also give you monitoring instructions and logging tools. With pet hospice guidance, you can learn what to look for and what deserves serious concern and action — helping you to stay ahead of a “health crisis.”
4. Their help may be more accessible
Veterinary hospice providers may be more available than regular clinics, some offering extended hours and delivering prompt responses to concerned pet parent messages. In my experience, email answers, prescription changes and phone discussions happened quickly, and often outside the usual business hours for veterinary offices. With pet hospice, I believed a partner was there, ready to help me help my best friend!
5. Pet hospice support goes beyond doctor and dog
Understanding your strong emotions about your senior buddy, and also the difficulties you may be experiencing in providing care, vet hospice providers work to make it easier for you. They can connect you with published resources, and as Dr. Cornelius noted, “With a network of people who can help.”
These may include hospice provider support centers, articles, videos, and counselors and support groups to assist you with your current frustrations and worries, anticipatory grief and eventual bereavement. And Dr. Cornelius shared an exciting future pet hospice possibility: the development of a network of trusted sitters for hospice pets, so parents can confidently enjoy a few hours away from home.
So, if you have a senior pooch who is starting to battle some “old age” illness enemies, I recommend giving a veterinary hospice provider in your area a call. For even if the rainbow bridge seems far away, this caring service can help enhance your buddy’s life and make your remaining time together the best it can be.
About the author: Chris Corrigan Mendez, M.Ed., LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor in private practice and the proud guardian of two rescue pooches. Chris leads a monthly pet illness and loss support group and provides individual counseling to pet guardians. Follow her at www.ccmcounseling.vpweb.com and www.facebook.com/ccmcounselingstl.