Hospice Helps Dogs and Humans Cope With End of Life

It’s hard to think about, especially if your dog is currently healthy, but one day he—and you—will be facing the end of his life. Or maybe your dog is dealing with a disease right now that will ultimately take his life. In some cases, medical treatment can help for a time, but if that is not possible or desirable, you may want to consider hospice care for your dog.

Veterinary hospice allows terminally ill dogs to live comfortably at home and provides emotional support for the people who love them. It’s a way to spend some additional quality time with your dog, make decisions about his remaining time, and prepare for his death.

Hospice for pets, sometimes referred to as “pawspice,” is a kind of specialized palliative care to relieve pain and ensure quality of life. It helps dogs to stay comfortable for as long as possible without subjecting them to invasive procedures that could cause fear, anxiety or stress.

Just as with hospice for humans, choosing hospice for a pet can mean a commitment from family members, including older kids. Issues to consider include finances, travel to and from the facility if your dog isn’t being cared for at home, learning how to give care. Your veterinary care team can help you learn to recognize and evaluate pain levels, quality of life, and signs of organ failure.

Good communication is a must for a successful hospice experience. Talk to your veterinarian about your goals, expectations, and even fears. Don’t be afraid to say what things you are and are not willing to do for your dog. For instance, some people are afraid of giving injections but don’t mind giving dogs pills.

Palliative care that can be provided for your dog includes pain management, infection control, and nutritional support. A pet with cancer may benefit from low doses of chemotherapy drugs that improve quality of life and increase survival time.

Your veterinarian can help you design a treatment plan that meets both your needs and your dog’s needs. As long as you put your dog’s welfare first, there’s no right or wrong decision about hospice. It’s not for everyone, but choosing it may reward you with additional quality time with your special dog.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.