Hospice Care for Pets
Veterinarian Reviewed on August 7, 2009 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
These days, caring pet owners are seeking hospice care for their sick and dying pets. Hospice care, usually overseen by a veterinarian, helps pets and other animals who are suffering with heart or kidney failure, or other kind of terminal illness, to die peacefully in their homes surrounded by their loving family members, rather in a cold veterinary hospital.
Founder of the Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets, an educational and referral service in Vallejo, California, Kathryn Marocchino, explains the popularity of hospice care for pets amongst pet owners as:
“These are the people who consider pets a part of the family and want to do whatever it takes to be there for them up until the end,” she says.
For the most part, pet owners whose pets are terminally ill, prefer hospice care for their pet because they have already experienced hospice care on first hand basis, usually with a parent or loved one.
A veterinarian will teach the pet’s owner the correct way to administer medication, change the pet’s dressings and how best to provide food and water to their ailing pet, all in the comfort of their own home.
The pet’s pain is managed via pharmaceutical drugs and holistic medicine. Often alternative healing therapies are sought for the pet, such as Reiki and homeopathy, in an effort to compliment the medication that the pet is currently taking. These therapies and drugs are usually continued until the pet passes away naturally or if the pet’s owners change their mind and decide to have their pet euthanized.
Depending on their prognosis from a qualified vet, some pets may live for quite a few more years whilst receiving hospice care at home. Other animals will only have a few days or weeks left to live. In either situation, providing the pet with stability and comfort in its own home has many benefits, not only for the pet but for the family as well.
There are approximately 100 veterinarians in the USA that offer hospice care support to pet owners as part of their usual veterinary services.
There are a few veterinary clinics, however, that cater specifically to the hospice care of animals, such as the Argus Institute at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
“It is a service, I think, people are going to be asking for more and more,” said Marocchino.
Marocchino’s foundation conducts an annual symposium on animal hospice care at the University of California in Davis. The symposium usually draws veterinarians and other hospice care givers. However, Marocchino has seen an increase in the amount of pet owners and hospice workers at human hospice care centers also attending the symposium.
Sharen Meyers, who runs a pet loss support group, has been a social worker in human hospice care for many years. She believes that pet owners are too hasty in their decision to euthanize their pets when they are told about the animal’s incurable diagnosis and then, afterwards, the owners tend to feel guilty about their decision. However, feelings of guilt are usually never felt by pet owners who decide on providing their pet with hospice care instead.
“When people walk through the hospice process thoughtfully and consciously, it lessens the intensity of the grief afterwards,” said Meyers.
Another option for ill pets is for their owners to take them to an animal hospice facility, such as the one in Bend, Oregon, called Synergy Animal Hospice. Here all companion animals, including horses, geckos, rabbits and chickens are able to receive end-of-life care.
Synergy is a nonprofit hospice center that also has an inpatient-care unit for pets whose families are not able to provide care for their pets at home.
The center provides such services as Reiki for the dying pets and emotional support groups for their families.
Meyers is hoping that she will be able receive donations and grants so that she too can provide such in-demand and needed services to the ill pets in her community.
Kenneth Koch of Modesto, California, opted for hospice care for his cat, Midnight, when she became terminally ill with chronic renal failure. Koch spent a total of three years caring for his dying cat in the comfort of her own home with him. Midnight adopted Koch almost 20 years ago by showing up on his doorstep one day.
Koch invested nearly $12, 000 for the three year at-home treatment for Midnight, including intravenous treatments, daily injections and a variety of pills.
“She was such a big part of my life,” said Koch. “I was just giving back for all the love she gave to me.”
Photo Credit: mcsquishee
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for 28 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan