End of Life Care for Pets FAQ

Everyone who loves a pet will eventually face losing them. While it's not a pleasant subject to think about, it's important to understand what is happening with your pet and how you can help them be as comfortable and happy as possible. Whether your pet has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or is approaching the end of their lifespan, you will have to make some decisions about the best way to handle end-of-life care for your pet.

How can I make my home comfortable for my elderly pet at the end of their life? The best thing you can do for your pet is make sure they aren't in pain or distress. Have your vet check to make sure there are no underlying health problems that need to be treated. Your pet may spend a lot of time lying in their bed, so make sure it's comfortable and well-cushioned to prevent pressure sores. If your pet has incontinence, which is a loss of bladder control, check them often to make sure they aren't wet or soiled. You can use a sling or a towel to help your pet get up to urinate or defecate if needed. Lastly, surround your pet with their favorite toys and comfort items.

How can I tell if my pet has poor quality of life ? We all have bad days, but if your pet is experiencing many of the following symptoms all or most of the time, you should see your vet to determine the next steps:

  • Doesn't want to play
  • Doesn't interact with others like they used to
  • Hides
  • Doesn't enjoy activities they previously liked
  • Seems depressed
  • Sleeps a lot
  • Is in pain
  • Not eating or drinking well
  • Losing weight
  • Not active
  • Has more bad days than good days

How can I tell if my pet is in pain? If your pet is in pain, they may exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Hiding
  • Increased vocalizations
  • Changes in normal eating and drinking habits
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Panting or other breathing changes
  • Trouble moving
  • Shaking or trembling

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What pain management options are available for my pet? Pain management options for pets include numerous prescription and over the counter pain medicines as well as dietary supplements, diet changes, and certain types of exercise depending on your pet’s health. Physical therapy such as hydrotherapy, which is gentle exercising in water, cold laser therapy, which is using a low-energy laser to help reduce inflammation, or acupuncture may also help relieve your pet’s pain.

There are numerous types of pain medications, as well as physical therapy options (such as hydrotherapy listed here), acupuncture, cold laser therapy, etc. Diet and certain types of exercise depending on your pet's health may also be an option to greatly improve quality of life and decrease pain.

What is pet hospice care? Pet hospice care, also called palliative care, is care that is given to pets who have been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness that has no cure. The goal of pet hospice care is to make your pet’s final days as dignified and pain-free as possible. If you choose palliative care for your pet, you will be your pet's primary caregiver and will work with a veterinarian to make your pet's last days comfortable and peaceful.

When is hospice care a good option? Every case is different, and the decision to pursue hospice care should be discussed with your veterinarian. However, in general, hospice may be the right choice if your pet has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is not expected to live more than a few months. If you aren't ready to euthanize your pet, hospice could be the right choice.

How will I know how to provide hospice care for my pet? Hospice care is an individualized plan. You will work with your pet's veterinary healthcare team to plan the best course of care for your pet. You will have to communicate closely and effectively with your vet. If you have any questions or need help, they are there for you. As your pet's condition changes, your plan may change as well. The goal is always to make your pet comfortable.

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What is euthanasia ? Euthanasia is a painless, gentle way to end your pet's life when they would otherwise continue to suffer. Your vet has received special training to perform the procedure which begins with giving your pet a sedative. Your vet will then give your pet medication to gently end their life. Your pet won’t feel any distress or discomfort. The procedure only takes 10 to 20 seconds. Your vet is the best person to help you decide when it's time to euthanize your pet. Keeping a record of your observations about your pet's quality of life may help you and your vet decide when your pet's suffering is greater than their ability to enjoy life.

How can I deal with the loss of my pet? It is perfectly normal to grieve the loss of your pet. It may help to memorialize your pet and share memories with others who cared about them. Reach out to your friends and family for support and encouragement. There are also pet loss support groups such as The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. You also might be able to find counseling services at your local veterinary college. If your symptoms of grief and loss are severe or persistent, talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to handle it.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on February 13, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American Kennel Club: "Palliative Care and Hospice for Terminally Ill Dogs."

ASPCA: "End of Life Care."

The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center: "How Do I Know When it's Time?"

PetMD: "Pet Hospice: Why You Should Consider It."

Vetsnow: "9 warning signs that could mean your dog is in pain."

VCA Hospitals: "Hospice Care for Pets - Overview - Part 2."

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