Hospice Care at RBVH

Hospice care is considered the phase of a pet’s life when our medical goals transition away from curing disease and instead focus solely on the pet’s comfort and quality of life. Sometimes a pet’s status is formally acknowledged to be “in hospice” – such as with a patient who has received cancer treatments in the past and will now just receive palliative care (such as pain management medications) until their passing. Other times it is less formal – such as with a large breed dog with advanced arthritis, where a family is planning for an end-of-life service when the pet’s mobility problems and pain become too difficult to manage. Many pet owners have heard or said “we’re just keeping him comfortable” - this is considered hospice care.

Ideal hospice care involves a close partnership with a veterinarian, starting with a consult where the family can openly discuss their view of their pet’s health and well-being, as well as the challenges that are present. It is important to discuss a family’s goals for their pet and also their boundaries. For instance, some pet owners would say that if a pet required pain medication every 4 hours, then the family would consider the pet’s quality of life to be poor and would plan for euthanasia. Alternatively, another family might feel that they can maintain such a rigorous medication schedule and that would not be one of their boundaries (or thresholds) for making the difficult decision of euthanasia. These matters are very personal and individual and it’s vital to have clear and consistent communication between the veterinarian and the family.

In addition to a discussion of goals and boundaries, a medical care plan should be devised that will address pain and hygiene management and the control or prevention of infections, in addition to considering specifics that pertain to an individual case. As the pet’s needs change, the family and veterinarian will remain in contact and adjust the medical care plan. Depending on a pet’s health when they begin their hospice journey, this phase may be very brief or last many months. Also, in some cases pets decline gradually and other times there can be a rapid change in their quality of life.

The hospice journey ends with a pet’s passing, either through natural death or euthanasia. Regardless of the path a pet’s hospice journey takes, our veterinarians are prepared to partner with families in making the last phase of a pet’s life dignified, comfortable and meaningful.

We want you to have the information you need to make informed choices for your pet. Please see our End-of-Life Care page and Pet Loss Support page. Our House Call Department can provide hospice care and end-of-life care in the comfort of your home. Please call us to get personal assistance with your questions.