In many ways, veterinary hospice is greatly informed by, and based on, human hospice medicine. We learn from our human colleagues, we adapt their priorities and focuses, and we strive to practice as they do, supporting comfort and quality of life for both the patient and the family.
There is one way, though, in which those of us who work with animals – and our patients – are luckier than our human counterparts. In human medicine (in the United States, at least), a patient must choose between pursuing curative care and entering hospice; they can’t receive the benefits of hospice care while still receiving traditional medical treatment for their condition. Our pets, thankfully, do not need to make this decision – a pet patient can begin hospice and palliative care while still also being treated by general practice vets and/or specialists, and often benefits significantly from this decision.
Hospice care functions best when it’s part of an integrative approach that includes a team of professionals to give the best, and most well-rounded, support to both the pet and the people caring for them. Far from replacing your regular veterinarian, a hospice veterinarian is joining them, and adding to the resources you have at hand.
This teamwork can take many shapes. Some pets have multiple chronic health conditions, some of which may be better managed at home by a hospice veterinarian while others are more easily handled with in-clinic care. A pet diagnosed with a potentially manageable but progressive condition may benefit from seeing both a specialist (such as an oncologist or internal medicine specialist) to help manage the primary disease as well as a hospice veterinarian to make sure that, in the course of treatment, quality of life is still prioritized and the family gets the support they need. And even for families who decide to avoid any further office visits, general practice vets are still part of the team, providing historical information, helping with medications, and being available for support.
Hospice cases are often complex, and demand a lot from the people caring for the beings in need. Hospice’s greatest purpose, ultimately, is to make sure that you have the best possible team supporting you and your loved one along this journey.