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Pet Hospice as a Resource for End-of-Life Care

by Chelsea Sonius
Spring 2009

pic Pet ownership in the United States is becoming increasingly popular everyday, as more and more people are recognizing and appreciating the very special bond that humans and animals share.  Along with this, veterinary medicine is improving, just as human medicine is, and people are becoming increasingly willing to pay for their pet to have gold-standard care.  The result of this is that pets are living longer lives.

This means that pet owners are able to share more quality years with their pet.  However, this also means that more and more pet owners will be providing end of life care for their pet, as well as be forced to make some very difficult decisions about their pet's lives.  The aim of this paper is to provide some information about resources available to the owner of the pet that has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, as well as some general grief support information for those that are facing pet loss.

What is Pet Hospice Care?

While most people are familiar with human hospice care, few are aware that pet hospice is available in many places around the United States.  In fact, it appears to be a growing trend in veterinary medicine, as owners express a desire to provide a higher level of end- f-life care to their pets.

Pet hospice is a program designed to offer care and support to both the terminally ill patient and their owner in the comfort of their own home.  The needs of the patient and their family members varies greatly from patient to patient, but the aim of pet hospice care remains the same: to ensure that a high level of quality of life is attained by the patient as they approach the end of their life, as well as provide education and emotional support to the owner during this difficult time.

What can I expect if I want Hospice Care for my pet?

After you have contacted an organization that offers pet hospice, you will likely have an initial consult with a team of pet hospice providers.  This usually means that a group of individuals trained in providing hospice care will come into your home and discuss what you and your pet would like to gain from pet hospice services.

Some people simply want to make sure that their pet is not in pain during the last stage of their life.  Others wish that the hospice care-givers become more involved with determining how their pet?s illness is progressing and ensuring that this information is appropriately communicated to their veterinarian.  Some look toward pet hospice as a way to discuss concerns regarding euthanasia and the grieving process.

After the initial consult, the care that you and your pet will receive is highly individualized, depending on the circumstances surrounding your pets illness.  Some of the most common services that pet hospice care providers offer include:

This list is by no means all inclusive.  If there are specific services or support outlets that you are seeking, it is important that you communicate this with your pet hospice providers.

What services are NOT offered by pet hospice?

Generally, pet hospice does not provide:

Pet hospice providers generally do not make decisions about the medical treatment of your pet.  Instead, they will communicate any concerns to your veterinary provider, and the veterinarian will make all medical decisions.  Many advanced treatment services require a veterinary medical staff to be present, and therefore, pet hospice care givers are often limited to providing simple treatment services.  Finally, pet hospice providers are meant to be a source for providing emotional and educational support through the grieving process, and do not provide euthanasia services.  This should be done by your veterinarian.  However, if you would like to have your pet hospice provider present at the time of euthanasia, many care givers are comfortable being there for you and your pet.

Why is there so much emphasis on euthanasia and grief support?

Euthanasia is a very difficult decision to make, and most of us struggle with determining when it is the right time.  While pet hospice providers will never make this decision for you, they will offer you advice, support, and tools to help you determine what the right time is for you and your pet.  For many people, this helps to alleviate some of the guilt and anxiety that goes along with the decision making process.  By helping the owner feel more at ease with the decision making process, they are able to focus more on spending quality time with their pet and determining the quality of life that their pet is experiencing.

Grieving is a natural and necessary process in end of life care, and often times the aspect of euthanasia causes us to grieve in ways that we are not familiar with.  Understanding the grieving process and formulating ways of handling our grief is imperative in the healing process.  Pet hospice providers help those involved in the pet's life to understand their grief and help them to find peace in their lives following their loss.

Who benefits from hospice care?

Hospice care is beneficial to all of those involved.  The patient benefits from the care and support that is offered, as the hospice caregivers seek to provide them with the highest quality of life possible.

The owner benefits by having an emotional support outlet available.  Hospice providers are trained in grief counseling and are comfortable discussing many concerns that pet owners face.  Many people may feel isolated during the end of life process; pet hospice can aid them in finding comfort during difficult decisions, help them find validation in what they are feeling, and promote growth during this very difficult time.

Family members and close friends may benefit from pet hospice care, as well.  Pet hospice providers understand that there are likely many important people that are involved in the life of your pet.  You are encouraged to include these people in the hospice process.

Finally, the pet hospice provider and your veterinary provider benefit.  Pet hospice providers feel rewarded when they are able to make a difference in the lives of pets and those that love them, and veterinarians are able to provide a higher level of end of life care for the pet by working with pet hospice providers.  Furthermore, pet hospice providers are often students, and providing end of life care offers an opportunity to grow and learn.

Where can I go for more information or to find a pet hospice provider?

If you are seeking more information about pet hospice services and end of life care, please visit some of the websites below.  To find a local pet hospice provider in your area, ask your veterinarian for local resources.

Pet Hospice Information

The Argus Institute — Colorado State University (also an excellent source for pet loss/grieving information)

American Veterinary Medical Association

Pet Hospice Links

Pet Loss and Grieving Resources

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
24 Hours — 1-877-GRIEF-10 (1-877-474-3310)

University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
877-394-CARE (toll-free) — 217-244-CARE (local)

Books about Pet Loss for Adults

Church, J.A. Joy in a Woolly Coat: Living With, Loving, and Letting Go of Treasured Animal Friends. H.J. Kramer Inc., 1987.

Nieberg, H.A., and A. Fisher.
Pet Loss: A Thoughtful Guide for Adults and Children.

Books about Pet Loss for Children

Carrick, C.  The Accident.  Clarion Books,  1981.

Morehead, D.  A special place for Charlie: A Child?s Companion Through Pet Loss.  Partners in Publishing,  1996.

Rogers, F.  When a Pet Dies.  Putnam Publishing Group,  1988.


Bishop Gail A, Long Christie C, Carlsten KS, Kennedy KC, Shaw JS.  Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.  The Colorado State University Pet Hospice Program: End-of-Life Care for Pets and Their Families.  Vol 35, Issue 4, 525-531.

The Argus Institute -- Colorado State University

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