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End of Life Care for Pets FAQ

How Can I Tell if My Pet Is in Pain?

When cats and dogs are suffering, they may not show outward signs that we normally associate with pain like whimpering or crying. Sometimes an animal will continue to eat or drink in spite of pain, panting or disorientation. Some physiological and behavioral signs that your pet might be experiencing pain include:

  • excessive panting or gasping for breath
  • reclusiveness
  • reluctance to move
  • food pickiness

If you’re unsure of how much your pet is suffering, keep a daily record of good days and bad days. It’s also important to ask your veterinarian for the exact signs of suffering likely to be associated with your pet’s condition or disease.

Are There Any Behavioral Changes I Might See in My Sick Pet or Other Pets in the Household?

Irregular behavior patterns are often the first sign that your pet is ill or in pain. A pet may lose his normal activity levels, appetite and grooming tendencies, or he may exhibit inappropriate elimination, vocalization and aggression.

Other healthy pets in the household may experience similar abnormal behaviors as a reaction to the changes and distress of your sick animal companion. Be sure to get regular check-ups for all of your pets to monitor and protect against any undiagnosed issues.

What Are Some At-Home Pain Management Options for My Elderly Pet?

If you suspect your pet is in pain, please make an appointment with a veterinarian for a physical examination and consultation. Your veterinarian will explain the pain management protocol associated with your pet’s specific condition. For pain due to arthritis, for example, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug may be prescribed, but only after blood tests ensure that your pet does not have kidney or liver problems that would preclude using this type of medication. If your pet has more severe pain, due to a chronic illness like cancer, your veterinarian may prescribe a narcotic pain killer in the form of an oral medicine or a patch that is placed on the skin.

What Is Pet Hospice Care and What Are Its Benefits? What Are the Goals of Pet Hospice Care?

Hospice care-also called palliative care-is an option for pet parents who want to engage in an extended good-bye or are opposed to euthanasia. Pet hospice is an option if your pet is suffering from a terminal illness and a cure is not possible. The focus is to make a pet’s final days or weeks more pleasant with the proper use of pain medications, dietary strategies and human interaction. Pet hospice is not a place, but a personal choice and philosophy based on the principle that death is a part of life and can be dignified. The goal of pet hospice is not to cure your pet’s illness but rather to ensure a peaceful end-of-life experience.

A participating veterinarian will teach pet parents how to provide intensive home care to keep an ill pet as comfortable as possible. Every pet parent should also have a back-up plan, which may include euthanasia, in case the animal's suffering gets out of control.

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