Hospice for Pets: Providing the Best Care at the End of Their Life

Hospice for Pets: Providing the Best Care at the End of Their Life

by Petfolk

Hearing those dreaded words, “There is nothing more we can do” is truly heartbreaking – after all, your pet is a beloved member of your family. Looking into the eyes of your pet, you know it will be a long and difficult goodbye. You may even promise them that you will take care of them until the very end, and that you’ll do your best to take away all their pain and show them how much you love them. This is where hospice for pets begins.

Modeled after hospice care for people, pet hospice can improve your pet’s quality of life and extend the amount of time you have with them. It is different from standard veterinary care in that the goal of hospice care is not to treat or cure a disease, but instead to make your pet more comfortable at the end of their life.

What is Pet Hospice Care?

Pet hospice is not a place – it is a personal philosophy that focuses on making pets as happy and comfortable as possible until nature takes its course or until the pet’s family elects euthanasia. Under the supervision of a veterinarian, you may choose to care for your pet at home to make their final days peaceful, dignified, and full of love.

Hospice care for pets may include medications to control symptoms, administering fluids to prevent dehydration, applying heat therapy to reduce pain, and helping pets do what they enjoy as long as possible. Depending on your pet’s individual needs, your veterinarian may suggest chiropractic care, laser therapy, or other advanced therapies to make your pet more comfortable.

Unlike other types of pet care, end of life pet care is done in the comfort of your pet’s own home. Trips to the veterinarian are scheduled only as needed, and these visits do not usually include lab work or diagnostic testing. The goals of any scheduled visit to a vet for hospice care are to strengthen the bond between you and your pet, and to provide you and your family with information on how to keep your pet more comfortable.

How can I provide the best care for my pet as they approach death?

Your veterinarian can help you determine what your pet needs in their final days and hours. Cat or dog hospice care usually focuses on relieving pain, controlling symptoms, supplementary nutrition, supporting mobility, and managing incontinence. The specific care your pet needs depends largely on their condition and their comfort level.

Your veterinarian can help you develop a pet hospice care plan specific to your pet’s needs. The hospice plan may include:

  • Observing and responding to clinical signs of pain, breathlessness, etc.
  • Controlling pain and other symptoms
  • Providing nutrition
  • Supporting mobility to make it easier for your pet to move around comfortably enough to eat and use the litter box/go outside
  • Managing incontinence
  • Creating a comfortable environment
  • Maintaining as much of a normal routine as possible

Controlling pain

Managing your pet’s pain is one of the most important aspects of hospice care, as pain can greatly reduce the quality of your pet’s remaining days.

What are the signs that your pet is in pain?

When pets are in pain, they may show it differently than you might expect – rather than whimpering and crying, for example, they may become reclusive or even aggressive.

Some signs that your pet is in pain include:

  • Agitation
  • Panting
  • Decreased activity
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Reluctance to move, jump, or use stairs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Over-grooming or excessively licking a particular area

Handle your pet gently to avoid painful areas. When you do handle your pet, watch for signs of pain, such as growling, whining, or nipping, and change your grip accordingly.

Use pain medications or treatments as provided or recommended by your veterinarian. Medications may include pain relievers, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Pain management treatments may include acupuncture, massage therapy, and laser therapy, although these would require your pet to make a trip outside the home.

Create a comfortable sleeping spot with soft, warm bedding. Laying in one position on a hard surface can cause painful bedsores, so opt for fluffy bedding.

Monitoring and managing other signs and symptoms

Monitor your pet’s breathing rate – the normal respiratory rate for dogs is 16 to 32 breaths per minute, while the normal breathing rate for cats is 24 to 42 breaths per minute. Manage coughing and other breathing problems by not smoking, using strong perfumes, or air fresheners.

Create a calm, happy environment

Choose an area away from foot traffic and commotion. This area should be well-lit, have adequate air flow free from drafts, and maintain a comfortable room temperature. Position your pet’s favorite toys and blankets nearby.

Provide your pet’s favorite foods in a form they can easily eat

Provide easy access to food and water. You may need to add water or otherwise soften food to make it easier to eat. This is also a time to offer your pet tempting or “treat” foods, such as chicken and rice, that they are not usually allowed to have. Nutritional supplements can help your pet get the nutrients they need.

Address mobility issues

While getting around is important to your pet’s well-being and comfort, pain and weakness can make it hard for your pet to move. Help your pet maintain mobility by:

  • Taping down rugs or using slip-resistant mats to prevent your pet from sliding on hard floors
  • Using a sling or towel under your pet’s abdomen to support their back end while walking
  • Carrying your pet outside for a breath of fresh air
  • Placing your pet in a stroller or wagon for a short outdoor excursion

Manage incontinence

Your pet may lose control over their bladder or bowels (or both) during their final hours or days. Keeping your pet clean and dry is essential, as prolonged contact with urine and feces can cause painful skin irritation and infections. Cleaning up your pet also helps preserve their dignity, as no creature wants to sit in their own waste. Check your pet often to make sure they are not wet or soiled.

Make bathroom breaks as convenient and comfortable as possible. Every few hours, help guide or carry your dog outside for bathroom breaks. Move your cat’s litter box closer to their bed; use a box with a low opening that your cat can easily step into.

Schedule quality time with your pet

The most important thing you can do is to spend quality time with your pet. This time should be separate from the time you spend providing medical care or potty breaks. Sit next to your pet or place them on your lap, speak quietly, feed them their favorite treats, and stroke them gently. Be sure to tell them how good they are!

Your pet may not need all of these measures in their hospice care plan, or they may require other types of support.

How long are pets in hospice care for?

Like hospice care for humans, pet hospice care starts when pet owners and veterinarians shift their focus from treating an illness to helping pets stay comfortable and happy as they near the end of their lives.

A pet can be in hospice care for days, weeks, or even months. The length of hospice for pets depends on when they were diagnosed with a life-limiting illness and their health.

Acknowledge and tend to your needs

Losing a member of the family is genuinely heartbreaking, as well as physically and emotionally draining. Exhaustion can set in, especially if you provide hospice care for more than a few days, and fatigue can prevent you from being the best pet parent you can be. You'll need to be strong and healthy to provide the best end-of-life care possible to your pet. Make sure you are eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and spending time with your family.

For more information about pet hospice care, speak with your veterinarian. During your visit, talk about your pet’s condition, pain management techniques, euthanasia and other options.


Seasonal Allergies in Cats and How to Handle Them

February 28, 2023

Seasonal Allergies in Cats and How to Handle Them

by Petfolk

Just like humans, cats are susceptible to seasonal allergies. Learn the signs, causes, and prevention of these allergens, and know when it’s time to see the vet.

5 min read

How to Keep Your Cat Active and Healthy

February 28, 2023

How to Keep Your Cat Active and Healthy

by Petfolk

Cat’s may be known for their love of naps, but as a pet parent, you know encouraging your cat to stay active is important for their health and happiness.

7 min read

Blocked Cats: Signs, Treatments, and Prevention

January 17, 2023

Blocked Cats: Signs, Treatments, and Prevention

by Petfolk Care Team

Learn more about the signs of a “blocked” cat and what preventative measures can be taken to decrease the likelihood of this disorder in your little furry companion.

5 min read