What is Hospice Care For Dogs

what is hospice care for dogs2

What is hospice care for dogs

You’re familiar with hospice care as it applies to humans, but what is hospice care for dogs?

“Simply put, hospice care focuses on providing the best quality of life possible for a pet with a terminal disease or condition until the pet dies or is euthanized.” This is a snippet of a longer definition provided by The American Veterinary Medical Association.    

It is an approach to “end of life care” that focuses exclusively on making a dog’s final days or weeks as comfortable and pain free as possible using medications, therapies, diet, and of course the companionship of their humans.  

A quick note

I will be referring to dogs simply because of the focus of my website, but the information in this post will help no matter what type of pet you have.

A painful topic indeed

No matter how much time has passed, I vividly remember how I felt the moment my vet would tell me there was nothing more he could do. It’s devastating because not only do I have to say goodbye, I had to find the strength to what is hospice care for petssay the words that would end the life of a beloved companion.

For all except my one cat TT, the right decision was to put them down immediately. TT had cancer and when the tumour no longer responded to chemo, rather than put him through trying a third, fourth and fifth drug, we decided the kindest thing would be to leave him in peace. He was not in any pain, and had a very good quality of life until one day a couple of months later he had what appeared to be a stroke. We rushed him to the vet and put him to sleep.

When is hospice considered?

Before you make plans for hospice care you must first determine if, ethically, it is the right course of action. I realise how hopeful it sounds but it is not an option in every case, and cannot automatically be justified simply because you are not ready to say goodbye.

Here are a few scenarios where hospice may be an option:

  • When your dog is reaching the end stages of a terminal illness, there’s nothing more that can be done medically but he can still enjoy quality of life.
  • The cost of continuing treatment is so steep, the parents cannot justify it when no cure is expected.
  • The parents wish to stop painful treatments and focus instead on having their dog live out his life in the comfort of his home, surrounded by loved ones.
  • Some time is needed to say a proper goodbye.
  • The chance to avoid making an irreversible decision while standing in the vet’s office still in shock.
  • Perhaps you have a bucket list of things you’d like to do with your dog that you never got around to doing.
  • Would like the chance to take him to the beach one last time, for example.
  • Maybe you need more time together for closure.
  • Other family members may like to spend some time with the dog.   
  • The only option for anyone opposed to euthanasia.

What are the goals of hospice care?

In a nutshell, it is about keeping your dog pain free and comfortable until the time comes when he no longer has a good quality of life, and it’s time to say goodbye.

How long does hospice care last?

If you just needed a few extra days to prepare yourself, there’s your answer. Otherwise, depending on your dog’s condition it can be weeks or even months.

What are some of the benefits?

The benefits can go hand in hand with some of the scenarios I listed above in the section “when is hospice considered.”

In addition…

  • Caring for a dog at home removes the stress of transporting a sick dog back and forth.  
  • An even deeper bond than already exists may develop as a result of such a hands on approach to care. It may even be therapeutic.
  • Your dog can die comfortably at home in familiar surroundings.

This is very important

Hospice is not a substitute for euthanasia, but rather the chance for your dog to remain with you when there is no longer anything that can be done, keeping him comfortable until it is time to say goodbye.

Where does hospice care take place?

In your home.

Is it ethical?

I don’t ask this question in the greater philosophical sense, but rather specifically as it relates to your dog. Just because hospice care is available, it does not mean it is right in every situation.

When faced with the heart wrenching task of having to say goodbye, it can be difficult to separate our not wanting to experience that pain from doing what’s best for our pet.

It is wrong and yes, unethical, to prolong another living being’s suffering in order to delay our own.

Believe me I don’t mean this in any harsh way. I have said goodbye too many times, and as sick as I felt because I couldn’t do anything to save them, the only thing that mattered was they did not suffer. That belief is the only way I was ever able to let them go.

Is hospice care the right choice for you and your family?

The first step would be to have a talk with your vet about your dog’s condition, how far advanced his illness is, is he in pain and of course quality of life.

If your vet does not offer hospice care, you may want to have this same discussion with a veterinarian that does. Not every vet may see it as an option, so best to speak with someone experienced and more qualified to answer. Be is hospice care for dogs the right choicesure to have all your dog’s medical records transferred over before a meeting.

How to find hospice care

If your vet doesn’t offer it, ask if he knows who does. Otherwise an internet search in your area and The International Association For Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) should help.

I recommend you do some reading about the various services on offer so you’re better informed before you meet the caregivers. Of course they’ll explain everything, I suggest this research because it’s something I would do.

Questions to ask and information to gather

I have compiled a list of questions you may want to ask during your appointment.   

  • How long have you/your practice been offering hospice care?
  • What is the severity of my dog’s illness?
  • Is it/will it be painful as it progresses?
  • Questions to ask about hospice care for dogsCan it be managed well with medication?
  • What kind of pain management is offered?
  • Do you provide alternative therapies such as supplements, remedies, acupuncture…
  • How can I be sure he won’t suffer?
  • Will my dog be doped up and out of it or still “himself?”
  • What kind of care and support can you offer my dog?
  • How flexible are you in terms of what you’re willing to do and what I should be doing?
  • How often will a vet or other team member visit to assess the dog?
  • What happens if I need help out of hours?
  • If you (the vet) is away, is there someone else experienced enough in hospice care to help?
  • How will I know when it’s time to let him go?
  • What kind of commitment is required of me/my family?
  • How long will my dog have before he can no longer be kept comfortable?
  • How much time do you think we have with him?
  • How long is each visit?
  • Will care be available 24/7?
  • Is euthanasia at home an option?
  • Do you offer grief support?

And of course the question most of us ask our trusted vets – what would you do?

Cost

It always comes down to money doesn’t it?

Fees will vary by practice and the services you require. Having a vet or other professional come to your home will always cost more than going to their office.

During your meeting be very clear about costs. They need to spell it out for you, and don’t assume anything. The last thing you want is to be hit with a shocking great bill. What are the costs for the various team members who can you afford the cost of holistic care for dogscome? Must it always be the most senior person or can a more junior, equally competent person perform the same task at a lower rate?

Do the charges vary depending on the time of day? Day of the week?

You may be able to do some of the things on your own, saving money to pay for what you can’t. For example, if your dog needs injections you could be taught how to do it, then use that money for something like acupuncture or another type of therapy that only a professional could perform.

Be honest with yourself about budget and how much you are willing/able to spend.

Who is on a hospice care team?

A veterinarian and trained staff who are experts in palliative care and pain control/management. Depending on the support you’re interested in receiving they could include professionals in massage therapy, acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, Reiki…    

What does hospice provide?

Everyone’s needs are different but help can include:

  • An in-depth explanation of your pet’s medical condition, including what to expect in the last weeks, days and hours
  • A detailed care plan
  • Training on how to provide home medical care – i.e. administer medications, injections, iv fluids
  • Training on recognising changes in behaviour (sleeping patterns and willingness/ability to eat), help in identifying pain levels and when to call for help
  • What kind of care does hospice provideOn call vets for emergencies
  • Personalised diet/supplements
  • In home care
  • Pain relief
  • Changing bandages
  • Taking temperature
  • Keeping your pet clean
  • Euthanasia (in home or at the practice) with an explanation of the process
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, Reiki…

Discuss with your vet how much you are able to do on your own, and what you prefer a team member to do.

What other services does hospice provide for pet parents?

In addition to the help and training I’ve listed above, hospice also offers:

Help in adjusting to the idea of losing a loved one

Extra time to make decisions without feeling rushed, standing in your vet’s office with a waiting room full of people

An opportunity to discuss, in advance, how and where you would like to say goodbye to your dog – what kind of environment you would like to create, who should be there, cremation or burial

Pet loss grief support and counselling

What will be expected of you?

Know in advance it’s a lot of work, and the participation of family members is a critical part of providing your dog with the best care possible. It requires a 100% commitment.

You will be your pet’s caregiver, but how much you do will depend on what you are comfortable doing.  

Even if you’re able to hire others to do most of the caregiving, you will still have to ensure your dog has someone around 24/7. He can take a turn for the worse very quickly so you need to be ready to take action in an emergency.

Other very important things you can offer your dog include:

  • Keeping his environment as stress free as possible
  • Ensuring he is warm enough
  • Surround him with his favourite things whether that’s a blanket, a toy…
  • Do some fun things your dog loves to do and will look forward to. That may even cheer him up
  • The company of his loved ones
  • If a dog has limited mobility there is a chance of bedsores so make sure he’s lying on a soft padded bed
  • Provide traction and avoid mishaps by covering slippery floors with carpeting
  • If he’s able to go for short walks, don’t keep him trapped in the house – a change of scenery and some fresh air may do him good. If he’s having trouble walking use a sling or a stroller. Speak to your vet first to make sure it’s okay
  • You must have an emergency plan in place should your dog take a sudden turn and immediate euthanasia is necessary

When is the right time to let my dog go?

Sometimes the answer is clear cut, other times it isn’t – much like the answer I’m giving you now.

You’ll be spending lots of quality time with your dog and you’ll come to see what his new “normal” is and what isn’t. He will have good days and bad days and you’ll need to know the difference to prevent any suffering. Your vet will help you figure that out. 

Natural death or euthanasia?

I know it’s tough to read this but it’s part of this whole process. Did you want your dog to pass naturally, or will you be making a decision on when to euthanise him?

It’s best to learn what they each entail in order to make a better informed decision.

Euthanasia

Euthanasia is a humane, painless and peaceful way for your pet to pass. Your vet will inject a sedative than a medication that will stop his heart. In all the times I’ve been with my pets they never experienced any pain and passed peacefully in seconds.

It can be performed in the office or your home. Many pet parents choose the home option as it is less stressful for their pet, and he can be surrounded by everything familiar and everyone he loves.

Natural death

For those who for, whatever reason, disagree with euthanasia or prefer to let nature take its course, a natural death is what they will opt for.

You must have a brutally frank conversation with your vet about what “natural death” means. Don’t expect your dog to gently close his eyes and leave this world. That’s what happens as a result of euthanasia not nature.

Allowing your dog to die naturally usually means a lingering and painful death. Yes it can be managed with drugs, but is this really what you want your dog to endure?  

You may be personally against euthanasia, but should your beliefs cause suffering to a living being that cannot speak for himself?

What to do if your dog dies at home

If your dog dies suddenly at home and you can’t get to your vet, you may have to keep your dog in your home until other arrangements can be made.  

The best thing to do is wrap him up and put him in a fridge or freezer. If that’s not an option, putting him on a cement floor, unwrapped, will keep him cool. A last resort would be putting him in the coldest part of the house packed with bags of ice. To prevent your dog from getting wet wrap him in plastic.

Sorry I know how gruesome this sounds, but it’s better to be as prepared as possible should the unexpected happen.

Cremation

Cremation is very common and you have the option of having your dog’s cremains returned to you by opting for a private cremation. Keep his ashes in a beautiful urn or scatter them in a favoured spot. The vet can make the arrangements for you.

Burial

I know many people who have buried their pets in the backyards but of course that would depend on local laws. An alternative would be burial in a pet cemetery, with a service as simple or elaborate as you want.

There is a small cemetery on the grounds of the shelter where I used to volunteer, and one day I saw a service that rivalled one for a human. How beautiful to see that human-animal bond.

Pet loss grief support

Time to take care of you. I know how emotionally exhausting this is so it’s important to grieve. Anything seems preferable to having to “go through the process” but it’s the only healthy way to deal with such a lossGrieve, cry, lay in bed but don’t let the grief consume you. Create a memorial, light a candle, share your stories and know you shared a beautiful and special bond.  

What is hospice care for dogs – conclusion

While it can be an option for terminally ill dogs, it is not for everyone. It also does not mean euthanasia won’t be necessary.

Whatever decision you ultimately make, I hope this post on what is hospice care for dogs, will help you make the right choice for the welfare of your dog.

 

Have you ever provided hospice care for your dog? What did that entail? Would you do it again? Share your experiences in the comment section below or my Facebook page

 

 

 

What is Hospice Care For Dogs
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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42 thoughts on “What is Hospice Care For Dogs

  1. What a great post. It breaks my heart thinking of pets leaving us. Obviously, it’s part of life, but so hard. Thanks for this.

    1. Thanks Tonya. It’s devastating having to say goodbye and many people never share their lives with another animal because of that. It’s the worst part of life though isn’t it.

  2. “When is the right time to let a dog go?” I have asked this question, but I don’t think anyone can answer it for you. Having gone through it, I think the only answer is “you will know, your dog will let you know”. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. I tried to make my dog the most comfortable she could be, but there comes a time that it’s not about me, but about what’s right for my dog and what’s fair for them.

    1. Hi Kelly, I agree no one else can answer that question and when it’s a quality of life issue, even we find it tough to answer it. You’re so right that it comes down to what’s right and fair for the dog, that’s the only thing that matters. Unfortunately some people will do whatever they can to keep their pets with them, and sadly that can often lead to suffering.

  3. What great information to consider. I’ve never actually thought about hospice care for a pet. I, of course, would never want to prolong any pain or suffering in a pet, but you do outline some good cases where hospice may be suitable. Thank you for this great post.

    1. Thank you Rachel. To be honest hospice care is not something I had thought about, but I found it such an interesting concept I wanted to share the option. I agree there’s no chance I would ever prolong suffering because I can’t say goodbye, but I believe there are circumstances where it is a viable alternative. The challenge would likely be in knowing that fine line when comfort ends and pain or discomfort begins.

  4. What a helpful post. It’s not something pet owners like to think about but it’s nice to have this option if they need it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks very much. It’s definitely not a topic anyone likes to think about, but I became interested in hospice care for pets, and thought it was a real alternative in some situations. Although some pets may have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they may still be able to live a quality life and aren’t at the stage where euthanasia is the only option.

  5. Thank you for sharing such helpful information. I’m sure a lot of pet owners will be visiting your page to learn more about the options available to them as they face some difficult decisions. You’re right, providing comfort is incredibly important and knowing the right time to let go.

    1. Thank you Bryn, I certainly hope so. Sometimes there’s no choice but to say goodbye, but if they’re not at that stage yet it’s great that hospice care can be a viable alternative. The danger is in losing sight of what’s best for the animal, causing them to suffer because we can’t let go.

  6. I personally would not put Layla in hospice care but would keep her at home although I do know some that do and my friend runs a sanctuary for Senior Ill animals and I think she is just amazing

    1. Hi Ruth, I agree I would never put Red or any animal in hospice care and I would never consider prolonging life just to have more time. Red is the love of my life, and can’t imagine my life without her but I would never allow her to be uncomfortable for a second, just because I couldn’t bear saying goodbye. I admire your friend tremendously, and the animals that live out their days in her care I’m sure are very lucky (if I can say that about hospice care) indeed.

  7. Wow, what a difficult, yet very important subject to discuss. Thank you for doing this for others, like me, who probably couldn’t but will need the advice at some point as a pet owner.

    1. My darling Red is 15 1/2 so believe me, whenever I write these types of articles I’m in tears. My goal with this website is to provide as much help, information and guidance as I can to anyone who shares their life with a senior dog. I hope you won’t need this type of advice for a very long time.

  8. Excellent post, Hindy. I’m sharing this over on my Pinterest board for others to read. Thank you.

  9. Hospice is something that our state doesn’t offer. It’s something many pet owners here would like to see. Thank you for the link to the providers directory. I plan to save it.

    1. Glad you found it helpful Allison. What would that mean for a pet that’s terminally ill, there’s nothing more than can be done but they’re still doing “okay” and don’t have to be put down yet? How would the state know if a pet was being cared for by a hospice team in the guardian’s own home? I’m interested in learning more about that.

  10. A great post – clear headed but practical warm hearted nontheless. You cover all the bases a pet parent might ask questions on – and this is totally awesome.

    Thank you.

    We need this kind of fearless approach with seniors. We did fospice care for a senior cat, Nemo, who was not ours but he walked into our house as a foster and when he passed I was by his side at the vets. He had been with us barely a few weeks but we made sure they were good ones.

    1. Thanks very much. I do my best to be as thorough as I can, and cover as many aspects of what I write about as possible. I guess because I ask a ton of questions and don’t like reading articles filled with words that don’t say anything. Nemo knew which house to walk into didn’t he! Lucky boy to have spent the rest of his life in the arms of someone who loved him.

  11. I did this for a Belgian Bouvier I had years and years ago. She had skin cancer and it was not going to get better. I was ill equipped to deal with it all. My life was chaotic at the time (after my divorce and caring for my dementia inflicted grandma) – and I knew that what my sweet sweet girl deserved was peace, fresh air and one on one care. I found a lovely farm, that specialized in all types of bouviers and hospice care for them. Hardest decision I EVER made was letting her go. SO hard.

    She lived another full – happy year. I visited on weekends. Often staying the night. Then one weekend … it was time. Out in the sun … after lots of cuddles. It was enough. Too much pain.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Sonja, I can’t imagine how hard it was to let her go but what a gift you gave her. Because of you she had a happy year and you still got to spend time with her, especially at the end when she needed you the most.

  12. I haven’t had to do it but Mr. N’s former foster takes in hospice fosters for which I admire her greatly!

  13. My dad passed away two years ago due to liver cancer. I stayed with him the month before he died and saw hospice (for humans) in action. He was comfortable and alert, even though he was bed-ridden, and I know that he was grateful for every day he had. When the time comes for my dogs, I will choose hospice as long as they are not in a lot of pain.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that Beth, my father died of the same only a very long time ago. How wonderful that because of hospice you were able to spend more time together and your father still got to enjoy life. Although hospice is certainly not the right path for every pet, it’s good to know the option exists as long as it is used responsibly with the comfort and quality of life of the pet the priority.

  14. Hindy this is great information. It’s such an important post, I’m sure a lot of people would choose a Hospice option for their pet if they knew it was available. I’m glad you had the courage to pull together such detailed information on this option, I’m sure it wasn’t easy to do. I’m glad you included mention of what to do if your dog dies at home and you can’t immediately get to the Veterinarian. I’ve often wondered about that. Your advice on using ice bags to keep your dog cool if you need to keep him at home is a very good option. Thank you for writing this, it will help a lot of people!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv them

    1. Thanks Cathy and you’re right, these types of articles are never easy for me to write because of Red being 15 1/2 (approx.). When my cat TT had cancer and there was nothing more we were going to do after the second chemo drug stopped working, he was still okay so we brought him home. No one ever mentioned the words hospice care, but we cared for him until he had a seizure and had to be put down. Writing about using ice bags on a pet that has passed at home was quite disconcerting, but if heaven forbid something happens, as unpleasant as it is to read about, it will be helpful to know if the need ever arises.

  15. My husband and I have already agreed that we will provide hospice care for dogs when we’re older. We’ve adopted a few seniors, clearly we were their hospice stop. It was such a rewarding experience – and a very different, calming sense of love and peace. Bless your heart for covering this important topic!

    1. How kind and compassionate of you to want to offer that, I know it’s not easy but your soul will soar. It’s funny, until I wrote this post I never considered I was offering hospice care to the seniors I brought home. You talk about what a rewarding experience adopting seniors was for you and I agree, I can’t think of anything that would come close to that feeling.

  16. I hadn’t thought this was an option. It’s a hard choice to make. I wasn’t prepared for putting my cat down recently but now I realize I likely should have done it sooner. Sometimes an objective view helps. It’s nice to think one more trip to the beach etc is possible, but often it isn’t because the animal just doesn’t feel well enough. Take a trip to the beach now – and often.

    1. Hi Sherri, I understand what you say about feeling you perhaps should have said goodbye sooner, I went through that with a deaf and blind dog I had adopted. I know many people feel they need to take that one last trip but I agree with you, often the animal is just not feeling well enough to do it and that’s when it becomes more about the person than the wellbeing of the animal.

  17. A difficult topic indeed. Thank you for sharing this option and also for pointing out that it cannot automatically be justified simply because you are not ready to say goodbye. Great post!

    1. Thanks Sadie, it is a difficult post and I’m glad you mentioned not automatically justifying it. I accept hospice care is the right choice to make in certain situations, however I’m concerned that it can lead to the dog suffering (unintentionally of course) because the parent is not able to let go. It’s hell for all of us, but that’s never more important than doing what’s right for our companion.

  18. What a wonderful post. More pet parents need to be aware. It is horrible when that time comes and I know it all too well. This list will provide a lot of help.

    1. Thank you Carol. Saying goodbye is one of the most horrific things I’ve ever had to do, and who wouldn’t want more time together. I just hope that this helps people see that although hospice may be a viable option in some cases, it should never be the cause of an animal suffering.

  19. I didn’t realize hospice care was available for animals. I provided my own “hospice” care when my cat was dying of cancer. It was tough.

    1. At the time I wasn’t aware of hospice care either, and like you I took care of my cat who had cancer because for a few months he was perfectly fine. It certainly is tough knowing there’s nothing you can do but wait. It takes a special person to be able to do what you did.

    1. It’s nothing short of a nightmare, but yes it’s a part of life. I’ve met quite a few people who, years later, were still unable to welcome a new pet into their lives because they couldn’t go through the pain of saying goodbye again.

  20. Thanks for an informative yet compassionate post – It’s always hard to know when the time is right, so I like the idea of hospice care although I’m not sure if it’s available in Australia. First I’ve ever heard of it.

    1. So glad you found it helpful. Sometimes the answer is clear cut and other times it’s about judging quality of life and making the best decision we can. As long as we put the wellbeing of our pets first, we know we do the right thing by them.

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