Hospice isn’t just for humans. Many vets offer end-of-life care for pets
When a pet is ailing or terminally ill, euthanasia isn’t always the first thing that comes to an owner’s mind. What if, despite the pain and illness, the pet is still alert, vibrant and engaged? What if there are still happy moments to share with the family dog or cat? That’s where pet hospice comes in.
“It’s about comfort, not a cure,” says Toby Goldman. Goldman has been a veterinarian for 23 years. He runs Lap of Love, the only full-time mobile pet hospice in the Vegas Valley. Goldman uses a combination of pain blockers and anti-anxiety medications to keep pets happy and content for as long as possible.
Las Vegas vet Nancy Brandt also offers animal hospice services. “I focus on quality of life, and not on a cure. Many animals will respond to treatment and enjoy weeks or years more. That time is precious. Hospice gives pets and their guardians special bonding time that could be missed otherwise.”
Vets have been providing hospice care for years, but it wasn’t always called that. With the rise in popularity of the human hospice movement, now there’s a name for it, making it easier for people to request this type of care for their pets. But it’s still a tough call. People are usually in tears when they phone Goldman’s office. He reassures them: “This is a gift for your pet.” But even before hospice, they say pet owners can honor their companion’s last days by making the transition as good as it can be. In addition to pain medication, they suggest:
• Making them more comfortable by adjusting things in the house or changing their eating situation. Maybe they need baby food for extra calories if they’ve lost weight. Or if they’re having trouble navigating a step because their vision is failing, add an extra light.
• Reaching out to a pet photographer in your area. A professional photo shoot can be a great way to capture tender moments so pet owners have something to look back on.
• Take them on a final trip to a well-loved location, like the park or the lake, if they’re still able to travel.
As animals become sicker, there are good and bad days. Goldman says everything is based on the pet’s behavior — and advises owners to be particularly watchful for signs of disorientation, lack of interest in food or water, and listlessness.
“You’ve given your pet such a good life,” says Goldman. “So now let’s take control. A natural death is not always a positive thing. They could lay there for days or weeks and have a hard time. We don’t want that for them.”
Even when death is imminent, it’s still difficult to decide to euthanize.
“It’s vital to understand what is suffering and what is transitioning – and when euthanasia is a better option for discomfort,” says Brandt.
“One of the most important things that I do is validate the pet parents’ concern,” says Goldman. “They want to know that their choice to let go is the right one.”
When that moment comes, keeping the pet at home may be the kindest option. Trips to the vet’s office can be stressful and make a pet fretful instead of relaxed. It can also be hard to transport a pet if they’ve got numerous health issues.
“Driving them somewhere they’re not used to, where they hear all the sounds of the office, putting them on the table under bright lights,” says Goldman. “What a foreign, scary thing for animals!” Home is a much more comfortable setting. “When I started doing the home euthanasia, I realized how sweet and beautiful it is for them to be at home,” he adds. “We make a little circle of love and tell stories.”
Pet owners want to maintain the human-animal bond, especially at the end. The vet can’t always cure an illness, but they can help owners and pets make the most of the time left.