What does hospice and geriatric care look like?
I’ve already talked a little bit about the philosophy of hospice and palliative care, and the challenges of aging, but this is still a very new field in veterinary medicine, and people are still in the process of learning just what can be done to help their pets and themselves. So I thought I’d take some time to discuss what exactly happens in geriatric care or hospice care for an animal.
As I’ve said, pets do not need to be dying, or critically ill, to benefit from hospice care. Often, hospice can actually help prolong life – and give an improved quality of life – to a pet that would otherwise not receive treatment for their conditions, or would receive insufficient treatment.
Every case is different, but the basic principles of hospice care remain the same – find out what conditions are impacting the pet’s quality of life, educate the people involved about their options, and take steps to improve the pet’s comfort and the people’s understanding.
For an older dog or cat with arthritis, care is likely to focus on providing comfort and alleviating pain (even pets without terminal diagnoses can benefit from hospice care and evaluation!). We may recommend therapeutic laser treatment, nutritional supplements such as glucosamine or omega-3 fatty acids, a combination of pain medications (there are multiple different medications out there, many of which work best in combination), changes in the environment such as support harnesses, throw rugs or yoga matts, ramps, or elevated food bowls. We may also suggest acupuncture, massage, or physical therapy.
For a pet with chronic kidney disease, hospice can focus on nutritional support. Often these pets are nauseated, and getting them to eat can be a challenge. Hospice assessment can help find the best diet, provide medications to control nausea and pain, and stimulate their appetite. For kitties that are difficult to give pills to, medication may be made into flavored treats or provided by injection. Hospice visits can also help give medications, or teach family members to be more comfortable handling injectable medications themselves.
Cancer is another problem that is sadly common, and can be scary, stressful, and upsetting to people when it happens to the pets they love. Hospice in those cases depends a lot on the particular diagnosis, but again, can focus heavily on modifying the environment, ensuring nutrition, managing pain, and treating any secondary problems (open sores, loss of mobility, nausea, or the like).
These are just a few of the conditions that hospice can help with. Most of all, though, hospice visits involve discussion and education. In every case, we will discuss your pet’s history, their current condition, and your own hopes and concerns. We will help you understand the course of your pet’s illness and what to expect. We will teach you how to recognize signs of pain and discomfort in your pet (animals are incredibly talented at hiding their pain!), and how to assess your pet’s quality of life, so that you are better able to advocate for them and care for them.
Our goal is to keep your pet comfortable and happy, and to give you the tools and support you need to make the best possible decisions for them at every stage in their life.