By: Erica Sandberg, DVM, CHPV
Veterinary palliative and hospice care centers around comfort of the pet. It focuses on three things: 1) the family’s abilities, wishes and limitations 2) the pet’s preferences, temperament and disease process 3) the veterinary team’s therapies, treatments, and guidance.
What is palliative care?
Veterinary palliative care is the management of symptoms. The goal for palliative care is not to cure an illness, however veterinarians are often doing palliative care alongside curative care.
What is hospice care?
Veterinary hospice care can begin in the early stages of a pet’s illness. After diagnosis of an illness, some families may choose not to pursue curative therapies. In that case, hospice care can be chosen early in the disease process, sometimes even before symptoms occur. All hospice patients are receiving palliative care, but their prognosis is usually shorter, and their diagnosis is usually terminal.
What are the goals for this type of veterinary care?
The main goal is to maximize the pet’s comfort. This is why we often designate hospice and palliative care as “comfort care.” Each family’s goals will be different and can be individualized. Some ways to individualize this type of care would be modifying the home environment to better suit the pet’s needs, prioritizing the pet’s preferences for easier medication administration, and supporting and guiding the caregivers based on their religious beliefs, capabilities and limitations.
How is hospice for pets different from hospice for people?
For people that enter hospice care, there are two options: in-home hospice or moving into a residential hospice facility. There are very few facilities specifically for pet hospice patients where the animals live and are cared for by employees. Therefore, the pet’s caregivers are responsible for the care of their pet at home. The family will provide daily nursing care, medications and monitoring for their pet. The caregivers are guided and supported by a veterinary team. The goal for veterinary hospice is for the pet to stay comfortable at home for their remaining days – minimizing pain and discomfort. For pets that dislike the car or going into a veterinary clinic, this can be a huge comfort for the beloved pet’s family.
For people, hospice care is usually sought after all other options have been exhausted and the person is in the very final days to weeks of their life. With veterinary hospice, the pet’s family makes the decisions on behalf of the pet. The family also has the option of humane euthanasia when the animal’s quality of life becomes poor.
Examples of patients in palliative care: Moderate to severe arthritis; senior pets that are dealing with dementia, vision and hearing changes, or frailty
Examples of patients in early hospice care: Early stages of kidney disease; chronic gastrointestinal disease; early stages of some cancers
Examples of patients in advanced hospice care: End stage heart failure; many types of cancers
Are there hospice specialists?
Practicing veterinary hospice does not require specialty training in the same way that a board-certified veterinary specialist is trained. Veterinary specialists go through residency, gain board accreditation and then work for specialty hospitals. Veterinary hospice can be practiced by any veterinarian, however there is a certification process for those that seek out more training. The certification can be completed by veterinarians or veterinary technicians through the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC). Once certified, the veterinarian would be designated as a CHPV – Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian, and the veterinary technician would be a CHPT – Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Technician. For families that are desiring the best in end-of-life care, looking for a veterinarian designated as a CHPV is a good place to start.