Most pet parents will take on the role of end-of-life caregiver for an animal at some point. Whether the pet is quite elderly or has been diagnosed with an untreatable illness, many of us find ourselves taking the extra steps to provide quality of life for whatever limited time a pet has. Sometimes the role of palliative care provider sneaks up on us as we help our pets get around or be more comfortable, and gradually we find ourselves focusing on making sure their good days outnumber the bad.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is specialized medical care for pets (or people) with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for the pet as they navigate the struggles of the illness.
You don’t have to take on the job of pet hospice caregiver or palliative care provider alone. There are many professionals in the veterinary world who specialize in helping you and your pet focus on quality of life over quantity. If you believe your pet has limited time left, let’s talk about some of your next steps:
Talk to Your Vet
If you haven’t already expressed your concerns to the vet, it’s time to have that conversation. It may not require an in-person exam, but you should let them know what you’re seeing in the home and what signs or symptoms your pet is demonstrating. Your vet will consult with you about what treatment options are available, or how you can support your pet’s comfort without treatment of the illness. Pain management, anti-nausea medications, appetite, and other symptom management can be discussed and carried out as you feel comfortable. You may decide not to treat the illness based on the impact of the treatment or the likelihood of poor outcome, but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore the symptoms of their disease.
Your vet may also refer you to alternative or homeopathic specialists for assistance with acupuncture, massage, or supplementation to help you manage your pet’s symptoms.
Define Quality of Life
It’s likely you’ll want to check in with your vet to discuss your pet’s care and what symptoms will indicate that “it’s time.” Set guidelines with your loved ones to note what you feel is important for a quality life for your pet. Whether it’s determining that you won’t let the suffering go on after your pet cannot walk or if they no longer recognize you, discussing these outcomes now can make identifying the right time for euthanasia a bit easier later on.
Home Hospice Care
There are veterinarians and other animal health care workers who specialize in home care and can provide exams, treatments, and support during end of life care. Talk to your vet about what services they can provide in office or at home, and feel free to ask for a referral for a trusted home care provider. These professionals can help you to better help your pet and provide aid with things like hydration or helping you manage incontinence issues. While some pets may not mind trips to the vet, most would prefer not to be transported and hanging out in waiting rooms if possible, so home care workers can provide a blessing to the pet and ease some stress on the pet parent.
It can be as simple as taking a walk alone, doing a mindfulness activity, getting enough water, or letting someone else help you clean your home, but you will be the best caregiver possible if you take care of yourself. Most pet hospice professionals recommend a mental health counselor or other professional be available to help you cope with the varying stages of anxiety, depression, grief, and loss. If you are able to manage your own care, you’ll be able to better focus on your pet and make the most of your time together.
Make it Count
While you can, find time to enjoy the special moments with your pet. Get them their own kid’s meal at the drive thru. Get your photo taken together. Sit in a park and feel the fresh air on your faces. Pay attention to what the fur feels like on their belly, what their toes smell like, how they sigh. These are all moments you’ll look back on, and perhaps even smile about, when the time comes.
The opportunity to provide home palliative care and hospice care for your pet is very difficult, but a blessing nonetheless. You can provide your pet with love, dignity, and comfort in a way that they deserve. It’s a small way to return the favor for the loyalty and devotion they’ve shared with you for many years.