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A Gentler, Kinder Way to Say Goodbye -- Is it Right for Your Pet?

June 23, 2011 | 56,202 views
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pet's final daysDr. Karen Randall of Edina, MN is one of a small but growing number of veterinarians who provide end-of-life care and euthanasia services in the homes of her pet patients.

According to the StarTribune.com:

Randall started her business, Solace Veterinary Hospice, when she moved to Edina from Wyoming in December. At her previous veterinary clinic, she said, many pet owners requested in-home euthanasia and health care for their pets. Randall sensed that pet hospice care was what her clients were looking for.

When she visits a new patient for the first time, Dr. Randall evaluates the animal and performs a physical exam. She talks to family members about their expectations. Then she puts together a care plan that might include prescriptions, physical therapy and/or other treatments.

The goal is to make the pet patient physically comfortable and pain-free to insure a good quality of life during his or her remaining days. For some pets, pain management only lasts for a few days prior to death or euthanasia. Other pets have received months of good quality life back.

When the time comes, Dr. Randall can also help patients depart this world peacefully, at home, surrounded by family.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

This is such a tough subject for all of us who share our lives with companion animals, isn't it?

And it doesn't get a bit easier no matter how many dearly loved pets we've said good-bye to. It never gets easier even for me, and my practice exposes me to gravely ill and dying animals almost every day.

But as difficult as it is to think about losing a family member, it's important to know what your options are when you're facing end of life issues with your pet. You want to keep your companion with you for as long as possible, but you don't want to prolong any pain or discomfort your pet is suffering.

Since animals can't tell us when they hurt, it's up to each of us as guardians of our pets to be proactive in keeping them as healthy and comfortable as possible, including at their end of their lives.

Fortunately, pet hospice programs are being developed by a growing number of veterinarians and other experts who recognize the need for beloved companion animals to finish their lives in comfort, and with dignity.

Dr. Alice Villalobos and Pawspice

Dr. Villalobos is a pioneer in the field of cancer care for pets and is a founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society. She also founded Pawspice, a pet hospice service that works with pet owners and their veterinarians to take a positive and compassionate approach to terminal illness.

The goal of Pawspice is to support the emotions of family members while providing comfort and quality of life for their animal companions.

From her Pawspice website ('pawspice' is the animal equivalent of hospice):

Dr. Villalobos is serving as President of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics (SVME) for 2010-2011. She will raise discussions about the ethical obligation that veterinarians have to communicate compassionately yet frankly with clients regarding options for pets with cancer and other terminal diseases.

She believes that attending doctors are obligated to offer palliative and end of life Pawspice care options for terminal pets in addition to the standard options offered for either top cabin treatment, no treatment or euthanasia. She believes that pet owners have the right to be informed that palliative or Pawspice care is a viable option over no treatment or euthanasia especially when the family cannot afford the cost of top cabin treatments for their pet.

Dr. Villalobos views in-home pet hospice care as "… an interval between the thought and final act of euthanasia, if the owner really feels that their pet still has a quality of life."

She feels the word palliation should be used more often in vet practices than the word euthanasia, especially with terminally ill pets. Palliation means to make things better.

Dr. Villalobos believes the final chapter in a beloved pet's life is just as meaningful as the rest of its life.

Many terminally ill pets that no longer respond to treatment live on for months, and those are ideal patients for in-home hospice care.

The Pawspice Quality of Life Care Program

Dr. Villalobos's hospice program offers a full menu of services to help pets and their families with palliative care, including:

Individualized consultations Chemotherapy and all other necessary medications and medical therapy Effective pain management
Nursing care instruction for pet owners Adequate nutrition and hydration Hygiene
Mobility Contentment (mental stimulation, socialization, grooming, and just having fun)

All of the components of the program are designed to enhance the coordination of care each pet receives and increase quality of life.

How Pawspice Helps Family Members

Pawspice staff gives family members instructions and duties for in-home pet care that allow the pet owner to feel useful in caring for their companion. For example, they may receive a shopping list of items that will make their pet more comfortable, like a ramp or more comfortable bedding.

Pet owners also receive information on options for medical equipment, physical therapy treatments, pet day care and other services available to help both pets and their family members.

Dr. Villalobos also recommends group sessions and encourages networking among pet owners dealing with similar issues.

In addition to medical and other supportive care, Dr. Villalobos also stresses the value of just enjoying life during the hospice period. According to the doctor, "fun tends to suggest a connection to longevity."

Colorado State University Pet Hospice

Another widely recognized pet hospice program was developed at CSU's Argus Institute.

According to the Argus Institute website:

The CSU Pet Hospice Program is not a specific place, but a philosophy. It functions on the principle that death is a part of life. Terminal illnesses and the dying process can be experienced with dignity, as an animal rests at home with its loving family.

CSU Pet Hospice focuses on caring, not curing. We understand that serious illness profoundly impacts not only the patient, but family and loved ones as well.

The goals of the CSU program include:

  • Providing pets with a safe, caring end of life experience in their own home.
  • Providing pain control and physical comfort to the pet, as well as educational and emotional support for human family members.
  • Teaching pet owners how to care for all their pet's needs at home.
  • Giving the family time to adjust to their pet's situation and time to say good-bye in their own way, in their own home.
  • Making death a kinder, closer experience for both the pet and the family.

Understanding Your Options

While the subject of a pet's impending death is something none of us want to dwell on, it's good to understand the options available when the inevitable happens.

I hope you've found some small comfort knowing there are things you can do for your beloved terminally ill or elderly pet that don't have to involve expensive medical heroics or immediate euthanasia.

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