Many people have never heard of hospice care for animals. They think that euthanasia is the only thing to do when they get a prognosis that is terminal. But that isn’t actually the only choice we have when we learn about the upcoming death of our animals.
I used to believe that as well. When I went to Best Friends Animal Society in Utah to volunteer for a few days, one of the veterinarians who addressed my group spoke about it.
“You can wait too long, but you can’t do it too soon,” he said.
At the time, I agreed that no animal should suffer because of our own reluctance to face the facts about a diagnosis. I was there as an animal shelter employee, and while we were fortunate in that we didn’t euthanize animals to make room for more animals, euthanasia was still expected for animals with a terminal illness and no home.
Since that time in 2012, I have changed my mind. Euthanasia is no longer the only accepted outcome. The human hospice movement frequently refers to the phrase “neither hasten nor postpone death” as a guiding principle. Perhaps it’s time to consider that when we are face to face with our animal’s terminal illness, helping them through a natural death could be a gift for both the animal and ourselves.
What is animal hospice?
I spoke with Gale Pope, who has Brighthaven Animal Sanctuary about hospice when I was there in 2015 to learn Animal Reiki. She also heads up the movement for a natural death for animals, as long as they aren’t suffering. Gail says:
“Animal hospice is a team-oriented, interdisciplinary approach providing compassionate quality care and support on a physical, emotional, social, and spiritual level throughout the end-of-life process, tailored to the needs and wishes of the patient and the patient’s family. It is based on the principles of human hospice care.“
And how does Gail envision the difference between hospice care and other end-of-life support?
“…hospice care does not foresee euthanasia in the future but focuses on a peaceful, gentle and natural death. Of course, if an animal in hospice care takes a turn for the worse, the decision to euthanize may then be made.”
Some care is palliative, which offers comfort but is used to help maintain health goals for a sick animal. This is different from hospice care, which isn’t intended to cure, but to comfort through to a natural death while
During hospice care, however, there are many other modalities that can be used to improve our animals’ quality of life and perhaps even lengthen the time we have together.
Complementary therapies may be sought by caregivers or suggested by veterinarians or other animal hospice team members. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies are being successfully integrated into conventional palliative care for human hospice patients (Van Hyfte 2013), and a broad range of these therapies that have been shown to be effective in human palliative care have also been effectively applied to companion animals (Kidd 2012). Often the use of these modalities can be therapeutic for caregivers as well as animal patients, leading to a decrease in anxiety and a feeling of well-being in animals and humans alike. The use of aromatherapy, music therapy, massage and Reiki are just a few examples of therapies that have been shown to decrease anxiety in humans (Woelk 2010; Karagozoglu 2013; Vandergrift 2013).
When deciding how to move forward in creating a system of at-home-care for your animal, there are a number of things to consider. One of the first might be how you define a ‘good death.’
Jessica Pierce, PhD, bioethicist and supporter of the good death revolution, believes that “A good death is one that is free of unnecessary pain, suffering, and fear; it is peaceful, and it takes place in the presence of compassionate witnesses. It is, above all, a death that is allowed its full meaning.”
I will blog more in detail about Hospice Care for your animal in my next post. In the meantime, if you have any immediate questions feel free to reach out to me!