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Palliative care for your pet

created at: 2010/09/23

When you know that there isn’t a cure and your pets’ condition will progress over time, you have several options.  Sometimes your vet will advise euthanasia, and that’s certainly done with your pet’s interest at heart. But what if you don’t think they are quite ready, or maybe you are not ready yourself? Then palliative care might be a valid option. This is where we focus on treating symptoms and alleviating pain and discomfort to maintain quality of life.

If you choose to take care of your pet until they die, then there are some significant issues to be considered.  The medical expenses might be substantial. You will need to have your pet monitored monthly if not more often. Medications can be costly and you might need to give these medications at certain times, so there is a demand on you and your family. .

As well your pet may have some special needs, they might need help going to the toilet. Will you be able to physically cope with these needs? Then there is the emotional demands of caring for your pet, loving them dearly, possibly worrying about them and starting to grieve for the loss you know is coming. This can be extremely taxing and for some people can cause stress and strain in families and relationships. Talk to your family, friends and your vet about your concerns. Sometimes people will think you are crazy, or might even think it’s cruel to keep your pet alive. As long as your pet has a good Quality of Life and you can do all that is required, trust the choices you have made.

The most important consideration is to manage your pet’s pain. A lot of animals don’t show their pain in the way we might expect. They can be very silent with it and even look relatively normal. There are different forms of pain relief that your vet can prescribe from low grade to quite intense. Pain medications might change as the condition changes so expect extra visits when accepting palliative care, your vet will want to monitor closely. There are also some loving things you can do to help relieve pain- a soft warm bed, tender touch and soothing words can go a long way in conjunction with proper pain relief. Taking care of their pain is vital to your pets’ wellbeing and to palliation.

Your pet may need special food and help with feeding more often, fluids under the skin, cleaning and grooming, help with moving around the house, bandage changes, medications, warming, cooling, companionship, help with toileting, they might have trouble sleeping and they may get you up at night. You need to be prepared to do what is necessary.

Caring for your pet at home until they die is a significant life choice. If your pet isn’t ready to leave and you need some extra time with them, these last days, weeks, and months can be very special and very precious. Loving and caring for your pet so dearly can be the last gift you share with them. As challenging as it is the rewards are many in knowing you have facilitated the most appropriate and dignified completion of your pets life. The love and bond you share will be there forever, no matter what. As hard as it is, most people don’t regret a moment.

Author Dr Barbara Fougere