TheraPaw Pet Hospice Program
Member: International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care
The field of veterinary hospice is brand new. When we decided to explore what information and options were available in this emerging field we were surprised to find very little support for veterinarians and their team members, much less options for clients with dying pets.
Far and away, veterinarians, including Dr. Becker, recommend humane euthanasia when the suffering becomes too great for the animal to endure or the family to watch. However, there have been many instances where clearly the animal is dying, but is not in agony. What do you do then?
In the human medical field, when a patient is terminally ill and has decided they no longer want intensive or invasive medical care, they enroll in Hospice. Hospicejourney.org notes, “Hospice is a philosophy and type of care that provides comprehensive, loving support for people with terminal illnesses that have progressed beyond a doctor's expectation of cure. Hospice care includes effective pain management techniques, called "palliative care" or "comfort care," to enable people to be as free from pain as possible. Hospice care helps people to live with dignity, in comfort and peace, surrounded by their loved ones, as they approach the end of their lives.” We want to offer a similar option for pets and their families.
Many animals are very much at peace as their bodies are fading away. Sometimes guardians feel pressure from the people around them to consider euthanasia when in their hearts they know their pet is doing okay on their own. Death is a completely natural process. And although it may sound strange, we want animals to die as well as possible. We want animals to feel as good as they can in their bodies as they transition. It is also our hope that you, as their guardian, can feel as at peace as possible, watching them transition.
We believe there are several reasons animal hospice is not routinely offered in veterinary medicine, some of them more obvious than others. Most notably, veterinarians took an oath to relieve animal suffering. Because veterinarians do not have a Standards of Care manual to follow while animals are dying, there have been many cases of pet owners not having the support they needed during this difficult time. Without supervisory support, guidance and sometimes aggressive ‘comfort care’ or appropriate pain management, animal suffering can escalate into an excruciating existence that compromises the human animal bond, as well as the veterinary oath.
Additionally, animals don’t have an HMO/PPO. The sometimes intensive care and work involved in caring for a dying life (sometimes you are changing ‘diapers’ or linens every hour…that makes for a lot of laundry for someone) becomes exhausting and expensive. Most veterinarians do not have mobile house call appointments on a weekly basis, or an in-home Hospice Service Coordinator. Consistent patient monitoring is a crucial part of knowing we are doing all we can to meet the animals’ ever changing needs, from palliative pain management to hydration status and emotional support.
Although some animals don’t mind visiting the vet for routine check ups, there often comes a point in Hospice care when the animal can no longer be transported to the hospital. In these circumstances, our Hospice Coordinator, Michele Johnson, will make regular visits to your home to evaluate your animal’s wellbeing. Michele communicates with Dr. Becker about the patient’s status. This way, adjustments in your pet’s Hospice Care Program can be made in the comfort of your home.
Clients who enroll their pet in our Hospice Program meet with Dr. Becker and our Hospice Coordinator, Michele, to set up an initial protocol that meets the patients’ current medical and physical needs. Then during each weeks in home visit, Michele evaluates the physical, emotional and cognitive changes since the last evaluation. She goes over any questions or problems you may be experiencing and discusses the medications from Dr. Becker for that week. Often a pet guardian requests more frequent visits as the animal’s condition deteriorates. This allows for an independent evaluation of the patient’s condition on a regular basis, assuring we are meeting your pet’s needs.
Medication cannot be refilled without completing your prescheduled in home evaluation with Michele. And of course, humane euthanasia is still a choice at any time during your pet’s hospice care if you believe this is in your pet’s best interest.
The decision to enroll your pet in a hospice program is a very personal one. Working with a support team during your animal’s final life chapter can offer you guidance and peace of mind. It can offer your dying companion the right to pass comfortably and naturally at home.
To schedule an in home consultation with Michele call 708-278-0003