I often hear the statement “I would rather put my pet down than allow him/her to suffer.” A statement that I agree with, but what happens when a diagnosis is made and yet your pet still seems to be enjoying life? How do you know when it is enough? When do you know it is the right time? Sometimes it is obvious; but, other times it can be very difficult having to make end of life decisions for one you love.
Many of us are familiar with hospice care as it relates to end-of-life care facilities for people. Unlike the human healthcare system, Veterinary Hospice isn’t a place, but rather a compassionate care plan. The focus in veterinary hospice is to ensure that a beloved pet remains comfortable and enjoys a positive quality of life until it’s time to say goodbye, rather than trying to cure an illness.
Jordan my own beautiful standard poodle was diagnosed with a kidney tumor during a routine ultrasound. She had no clinical signs. Her blood work was perfect. Her exam was perfect. So what now? My girl entered Fraser Valley Animal Hospital’s Hospice Care Program. I knew I was not going to cure her but I was not going to let her suffer; and, though she still bounced on her now short walks and nudged me for affection, I knew she had or would soon have pain. So we monitored her urine for infections, put her on nutritional supplements, monitored her appetite and prevented her pain. She did great for about 8 months and then she started to deteriorate rapidly as the cancer had spread to her nervous system, she no longer had quality of life and it was time for me to let her go.
Pet owners will often seek out Veterinary Hospice care after being told that their pet has a medical condition that cannot be cured. There are few relationships in our lives as unique as the ones we have with our pets. Our pets have an extraordinary ability to love us unconditionally and provide us with a sense that we are important and needed, and so when we hear those words… “There is nothing more that can be done to treat your pet” we can feel physically crushed and heartbroken. In many cases, elderly pets or those with a terminal diagnosis may still be happy and full of life, but need a customized care plan that can evolve with their changing needs as their condition progresses.
Some of the situations where hospice-care may be helpful to you…
- You feel it may be time to say goodbye to your pet but are uncomfortable with the decision and may be feeling a sense of guilt or anxiety.
- Your veterinarian has told you that there is nothing more that can be done to treat your pet’s condition.
- You have made the difficult decision to stop treatment of a terminal illness such as cancer or chronic renal or liver failure.
- You have a very old pet and worry if he/she could be in pain and suffering.
- You have a geriatric pet that may show signs of an inability to rest comfortably, loss of appetite, pacing, not interacting with the family as much, or perhaps having accidents in the house.
- You are not yet ready to say goodbye but you are committed to keeping your pet comfortable and continue making their life as peaceful as possible.
At the Abbotsford’s Pawsitive Wellness Centre (The PAW Centre) we will be opening a unique centre that is dedicated solely to helping pets and owners who maybe struggling with these and other issues surrounding pain, geriatric care and end of life care. Fraser Valley Animal Hospital’s Comfort & Compassion Clinic is a separate area of the PAW Centre so that you can have privacy during this difficult time; and, so you are not in the middle of the hustle and bustle of an animal hospital. Here we are focused on providing alternative care plans for you to consider for your pet so that you can help your pet maintain a good quality of life during their remaining time with you. For some it may only be a few weeks but for others like my Jordan it may be a few months.
In medicine there is no “one size fits all” and that is true when it comes to end of life care as well. Given the highly individualized nature of FVAH’s Hospice Care Plans, and treatment options, the frequency of visits and contact may vary widely for an individual pet. Our hospice care team will work closely with an owner to create and change a pet’s hospice care plan depending on each pet’s own needs and requirement.
During this time besides having to deal with a sick and dying pet you may also have the difficult job of supporting your children and explaining the loss of a pet that has always been in their life. You yourself may need support with the grieving process. Every pet I have lost has left a footprint on my heart. They were all special to me in different ways. Madison who lived to be 23 was my cat I adopted the first day of veterinary school and her loss was different than when I lost either Jake or Kye who were my mom’s dogs. These two dogs I inherited when I was 26 as my mom had passed away. Having to euthanize my mom’s dogs was very different to my recent loss of Jordan. Everybody’s story is different and each person has different ways of grieving, so for those who are looking for additional support we have a grief counselor as part of our hospice care team. We are here to help you with not only your pet’s medical needs but also to help and support you the pet parent during this difficult time and can offer you resources and information.
What Are FVAH’s Hospice Care Services?
- Quality of Life Exams
- Pain Management Consultations
- Hospice Care Plan
- Individualized Comfort Care Box for your pet
- Training on your pet’s needs so you can care for him/her at home such as fluid therapy or massage therapy
- Nutritional Counseling
- In Home Euthanasia or Euthanasia in our private Comfort Room
- In home visits by a hospice care team member and or veterinarian.
- Environment Assessments
- Phone or Email Support
- Grief Support for you and your children
- Medical aids to help make the care of your pet easier
Unlike routine veterinary appointments, a hospice appointment is more involved and typically lasts about 40 minutes. During this appointment we will do a quality of life assessment, a full physical exam, an environmental evaluation, a pain assessment, review your pet’s nutritional needs and review present medications your pet maybe taking. We will be there to discuss your options and spend the time to answer any of your questions and concerns. Then together we will come up with a hospice care plan that works for both you and your pet.
I graduated from veterinary school in 1992 and even in that short time veterinary medicine has changed and evolved and we now have a lot to offer when it comes to helping reduce the pain and suffering in animals. Recent innovations and research have provided more alternatives and options for taking care of our pets during the last stages of their lives. Often we can increase a pet’s quality of life by customizing a care plan and finding the right combination of medicine, alternative treatments and environmental modifications.
If you feel that Veterinary Hospice care is the right choice for you and your pet, please fill out an online Hospice Questionnaire. The information provided will allow our hospice care team time to review your pet’s heath care to date and know the medical treatments and tests have been done to serve as a guide during your pet’s visit.
We know this is a difficult time in a family’s life and we are honored to help each family and pet through this time. Our goal is to help a family explore all options so that each family can make the decision that is best for their pet and their family. We are here to help, so please do not hesitate to reach out and contact us to see if you feel FVAH’s hospice care may be right for you and your beloved pet.
If you have any questions regarding if hospice care is right for you, or to book a Veterinary Hospice appointment, simply call us at 604.854.2313 or please email us at FVAH@live.ca with Hospice Care as the title.