FAQ about Palliative Medicine and Animal Hospice
What are Veterinary Palliative Medicine and Animal Hospice?
Veterinary Palliative Medicine involves a whole body, whole animal, and family approach to chronic and terminal disease. Veterinary Palliative Medicine is support and comfort for your pet and your family, giving you both support and guidance on this last stage in your animal's life. It is most beneficial when initiated at the diagnosis, however, can help you give your pet a higher quality of life at any point along the way and relief of knowing more about the course of the disease and your ability to help your beloved pet through this time. We help you prepare for what to watch for, what to do in a crisis when to know it might be time to consider euthanasia.
Animal Hospice is the final stage of Veterinary Palliative Medicine.
What is it not?
It is not about prolonging life until a natural death may occur, although, if that is the consensus of the team (the caregiver(s), the animal, and the veterinarian), we may consider that possibility. Gentle Euthanasia is certainly part of Veterinary Palliative Medicine and animal hospice, and the team has to be in agreement. Palliative Sedation may be necessary for some diseases.
Why have a palliative medicine vet? Why can't my regular vet do the same thing?
A palliative medicine veterinarian is one that has additional training in either human hospice or veterinary palliative medicine. They have been focusing on life-limiting diseases, chronic diseases, and terminal illnesses. They have further training in communication, palliative medicine, pain and other symptom management, and euthanasia. They can provide instructions and medications for a crisis if one were to occur. Dr. Hendrix is certified by the IAAHPC in Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and was the first veterinarian in the greater Sacramento area to do so. Your regular veterinarian could do palliative medicine, but may not have the training that someone who does Veterinary Palliative Medicine and Animal Hospice has obtained. Dr. Hendrix has also been leading the field, doing research on many aspects of palliative medicine while working on writing guidelines, chapters in other books, and her own book.
We see the palliative medicine veterinarian's role as a guide. We help you know what choices you have available to you, your medical choices (which you may or may not have already discussed with your regular veterinarian), your hospice or palliative choices, and we can discuss euthanasia (please see below for further comments). We help you plan for this last stage of life. We help you know what we would expect in the progression of the disease, the trajectory for your animal in particular, how to plan for emergencies, what to watch for in terms of distress, how to arrange the house to help with mobility issues. We also prescribe medications to aid in the comfort of your beloved pet.
End-of-life care is different from senior or geriatric pet care. Geriatric and senior care is the focus of many general practice veterinarians. End of life care involves more education of the disease from the perspective of what to expect as they approach death, more frequent communication with the family for support as changes happen more frequently, more frequent changes in pain medication, the arrangement of the house to help with mobility, making a personalized plan for the end of life, nursing care, and religious/spiritual and psychological care of the family. Your regular veterinarian is an important part of our team for your pet, for the many aspects of veterinary care they provide.
Regardless of whom you have guide you through this time, make sure they have further training in Animal Hospice and Palliative Medicine.
How is animal hospice like human hospice?
There are many aspects of human hospice that we incorporate into our care of your animal. In human hospice, there is a diagnosis of terminal disease, the cessation of trying to cure, and preparation for the decline of life. In pet hospice, we have a similar process, involving palliative care for the patient, grief counseling, spiritual care for the family. Palliative care starts with managing the animal's pain and discomfort, adjusting their nutrition, hydration, bedding, living quarters, monitoring their ability to breathe, ability to get around so they can have more good days than bad, more quality time with you and your family. Palliative care is available at the end of life for our pets.
Hospice also involves discussing grief and finding grief counseling for those who need more help to work through their grief. Veterinarians are not trained to deal with in-depth counseling and we would help you find someone trained to help through a grieving process. Spiritual support is also important and we will work with your personal beliefs and refer you for spiritual counseling.
We also make an individualized plan for different aspects of your pet's disease so that you will know what to do, when it may be time to consider euthanasia.
How is it different?
In human hospice, people are palliated all the way until the end of their disease. With our beloveds, we have the option of euthanasia. Some disease is acute, and may not be palliated easily and for those, we provide gentle euthanasia.
Why is veterinary palliative care important?
In our experience, not everyone is ready to say goodbye at the moment of a terminal diagnosis. Your pet may have more quality time left to spend with you and veterinary palliative medicine can help them spend it comfortably. Helping you navigate the unknown, preparing for a crisis, understanding your needs and your pet's needs are important aspects of veterinary palliative care.
What can you expect with a palliative medicine appointment?
We will examine your pet, review the previous medical history and medications, and food that your pet is currently on. We will listen to your goals, assess how the patient is currently doing, and together we will formulate an individualized plan that allows you to help your beloved pet through the last stage of life. We work through the what if's. This helps relieve some stress of the unknown which can occur during the end-of-life process.
We believe that there is a team during the hospice process. The beloved pet gives us clues to how they are doing, the client (you) has thoughts about how you would like things to go, and the veterinarian (us) can help achieve the goals of everyone involved. We also believe in extending the team to your current veterinarian, spiritual guide (if needed), grief counselor. Other members of our extended team can be a veterinary nurse, groomer, pet sitter, respite care. If your pet needs hospitalization, and the team deems that it is not yet time to let go, we will recommend follow up with your current veterinarian. (They are part of the team too!)