What’s the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care for your Pet?

May 7, 2022

Palliative and hospice care are an important part of end-of-life care in human medicine, and they are becoming increasingly more available and valuable in veterinary practice as well. Even given the best of daily care, a pet’s life is too short. As our beloved pets near the end of life, whether due to aging or illness, we will likely contemplate some difficult choices, including the possibility of palliative and/or hospice care.

How Are Palliative Care and Hospice Care Defined for Humans?

Palliative care can be defined as treatment that improves the quality of an individual’s life and enhances comfort during the last phase of life. Similarly, hospice care can be defined as care and support for individuals during the last phases of a terminal disease to allow them to live as fully and comfortably as possible. Both of these descriptions are fairly simple, straightforward, and understandable and both offer guidance to veterinarians in providing end-of-life care for our pets.

The Philosophy Behind Hospice Care

Hospice is a philosophy of care that values and respects the dignity of the individual. It offers a framework within which veterinarians can provide supportive care, both medical and nonmedical, during the last days of a pet’s life. Hospice involves a unique partnership between the pet’s family and the veterinary healthcare team and should be tailored to meet the needs of the individual pet and their human companions.

Pet hospice care focuses more on managing the process of dying. Hospice becomes appropriate when palliative care has done everything possible but is no longer effective. The goal of hospice is to provide pets with a death that’s dignified and as peaceful, pain-free, and humane as possible. This might involve managing pain and making the pet comfortable during a natural death or providing relief for unmanageable suffering via euthanasia.

How Is Palliative Care Different?

Palliative care (also known as comfort care) is an arm of hospice. It typically begins earlier in the disease process when it is possible for treatment to help alleviate symptoms and enhance the pet’s quality of life. Palliative care happens when the focus shifts from treating an illness to lengthen a pet’s life to helping the pet stay comfortable and happy during their remaining months or days.

Pet palliative care and hospice aim to provide the pet with the maximum of comfort and quality of life until the time approaches when the pet dies naturally, or euthanasia becomes the best and most humane option.

How Does Palliative Care Work?

Palliative care for pets can take many forms. However, the primary basis of palliative care involves a thorough diagnosis to determine all the pet’s health issues along with pain management to maximize comfort.

Palliative care can be easy or complex, depending on the needs of the pet and the abilities and willingness of the pet’s human family. For example, some palliative care pet patients benefit from the administration of subcutaneous fluids, massage, chiropractic, therapeutic laser treatment, acupuncture, or physical rehabilitation techniques, but not every family has the physical, emotional, or financial means to do all of this. What’s important to understand is that there is no one size fits all palliative care plan that will work for every pet and its family.

  • Work Closely With Your Veterinarian. It’s important to work closely with your pet’s doctor to pinpoint any problems that may be compromising your pet’s daily quality of life. Your vet may use a quality-of-life scale to help evaluate your pet’s level of discomfort or pain and the ability to continue deriving enjoyment from life.

When Does Palliative Care Turn Into Hospice Care for Pets?

The hospice model in human medicine involves companionship for the dying person until their life ends. However, for animals, it is recognized that it’s not necessary to allow them to endure discomfort and/or pain until they die. Veterinarians have the obligation, responsibility, and opportunity to use palliative care techniques to enable pets to live as comfortably as possible until they pass away. When living becomes unbearable and palliative and hospice care techniques are no longer offering relief, our pets can be provided with a pain-free and peaceful passage from their lives. Unlike physicians for humans, veterinarians are able to release their animal patients from unmanageable suffering with what is really a gift – humane euthanasia.

Palliative Care at Compassion 4 Paws

Hospice and palliative care provide a time of ongoing life and happiness for your pet by managing their symptoms to keep them as pain-free as possible. At Compassion 4 Paws, we create a caring bridge to support a pet as the time for a natural death or humane euthanasia approaches. Palliative care does not substitute for euthanasia, but it often helps to postpone it, allowing your pet to remain with you for what quality time remains.

We understand that your pet is part of your family and saying goodbye can be as difficult as saying goodbye to any close loved one. Compassion 4 Paws will provide you with a customized plan for easing your pet out of this life in the best way possible. What’s more, our care takes place in your home so that your pet does not have to be stressed or scared by a visit to a vet’s office. If you live in the Greater Seattle area, we will give you peace of mind knowing you did all you could to provide the best life for your beloved pet right up to the very end.

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