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Entering veterinary hospice

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Getting a pet often brings comfort, companionship, and love for many years. Unfortunately, as they grow older, they may get sick, leading to either a long-term treatment or preparing for their last moments. The goal of hospice care is not to prolong a pet’s life. It should be used to help a pet enjoy the final phase of its life, however long that might be. Mary Gardner, DVM, discussed 5 key elements of hospice care.1 “I would love for pets to be put in hospice sooner rather than later so they can have better care and support. Typically, veterinarians see them within the last few weeks.”

What to go over for a hospice patient

1. Prescribing with empathy

This step involves talking a pet owner through every medication or treatment option without pushing them in any direction. However, there is more to this step than simply a clinical outline. “Love is the most important thing I prescribe,” said Gardner, as she explained to the audience that she will write love on a prescription pad as part of her patient care. “Wouldn’t we all want thirty more minutes with our pets after they pass?”

2. Managing the pet’s environment

The key with any environment is making sure pets are safe and comfortable. Check that they can’t get stuck anywhere, slip on the floor, attempt to climb stairs, or fall into a pool, if the pet owner has one. Often, in this stage, pets will have mobility or sight issues. Certain products—ramps, mats, or harnesses—help with these obstacles.

If there are children in the home, it is important to teach them how to handle a pet who is in pain. This can prevent scenarios like a pet snapping or biting someone in the home.

3. Acknowledging caregiver burden and supporting the caretaker

Caring for a terminally ill pet takes up a lot of time and increases stress and anxiety for the caregiver. A pet’s care is no longer just a usual walk but rather preparing food, cleaning up, refilling medications, and so on. Knowing euthanasia is an option, which differs from hospice care for humans, makes the caregiver burden even bigger. Behind the pet care is a human being. They have their own life that is now segmented with a rather large emotional and physical toll. The caregiver needs support too. Gardner recommended petcaregiverburden.com as a resource for pet owners in a hospice situation.

4. Quality of life assessments

For Gardner, this is a private and intimate 20-minute conversation that she has with every family. What is said will vary based on the disease and management of the pet. Keeping empathy and love at the forefront of the conversation is crucial.

5. Euthanasia

Having a conversation about euthanasia helps prepare a family. Sometimes, they will not want to discuss euthanasia, or they worry about judgment for wanting to do it or deciding to do it later. “They may have a previous experience that wasn’t so good, and now they’re scared to go through it again,” Gardner reminded the audience.

Aside from euthanasia itself, it is important to let the family know about your schedule as a veterinarian, where they would like the procedure done, who they want to be present, and aftercare options.

Gardner ended her talk by emphasizing her love for her work and the hopes that this information helps bring hospice care to more veterinary clinics.

Reference

Gardner M. The 5 Key Ingredients to Veterinary Hospice. Presented at Veterinary Meeting & Expo; Orlando, Florida; January 13-17, 2024

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