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Posted on 03-09-2012

As difficult as this is to discuss, the end of your pet's life is inevitable but can be managed in a peaceful and comfortable way.

Many geriatric pets and their owners can benefit from end of life care, also referred to as palliative and hospice care. This is a relatively new field in veterinary medicine and often overlooked. The goal of this is to extend the space between a pets terminal diagnosis and their ultimate euthanasia. This is based on the pet's quality of life and the pet owner's decision. This is for those pets that will benefit from medication and treatments to minimize any or all of their symptoms.

  • Palliative care is care that treats or comforts the overt signs the pet is showing. An example of this would be giving a pet steroids and pain medication to treat an inoperable tumor.
  • Hospice care is a more intensive type of care that is very pet specific and involved continual care and monitoring. This involves intensive communication between the client and their pet as well as grief support.

There is a quality of life scale that can be followed called the "HHHHHMM" scale. This stands for hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and more good days than bad. This scale is useful for both clients and veterinarians, especially for clients that are having difficulty coming to terms with whether or not their pet truly does have a quality life. The scale works well for clients too because they can measure their pet's trends over time. Then clients can make a better decision as to whether they should continue with treatments versus choosing humane euthanasia.

Veterinary staff can provide compassion and education. They can teach effective ways to take care of a debilitated pet through proper methods of hydration, to providing optimal nutrition and to recognizing and controlling pain. The staff can also inform clients on providing appropriate bedding such as egg crates as well as having owners turn and rotate their pets multiple times a day to prevent ulcers or wounds. Clients can be taught effective ways to keep their incontinent pets dry and clean, as well.

An end of life plan can be helpful for clients to have in place, especially during such a sad and stressful time. This involves a plan for putting your pet to sleep when the time comes. Owners need to understand what is in involved and the peaceful nature of what will transpire. Many owners wish for a natural death for their pet without fully understanding the potential consequences. With veterinary supervision, constant quality of life checks which include constant assessment of clinical sign especially pain management, will allow for a peaceful death when the time comes.

Written by Jennifer Granite, VMD

Veterinarian at Eagle Animal Hospital

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