As every pet owner knows, the day will come when you must say goodbye. When an accident occurs and you lose your pet unexpectedly, the situation is difficult. However, when you must watch them decline and decide when they should be euthanized, the process involves uncertainty and guilt, in addition to sadness. The team at Otay Pet Vets wants to help you navigate this time with our answers to your questions concerning hospice care.

Question: My pet has a terminal illness. How do I know if they are in pain?

Answer: Pets do not want to show their vulnerability and can be stoic when they are ill. Cats are especially good at hiding indications they are sick. Signs to look for that indicate your pet is in distress include:

  • Decreased appetite and water intake
  • Lethargy and avoiding interaction
  • Hiding
  • Panting constantly
  • Difficulty moving
  • Unusual aggressive behavior
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Vocalizing

Q: What is hospice care, and should I consider this option for my sick pet?

A: Rather than focusing on curing your pet’s illness, hospice care focuses on keeping your pet stress-free and comfortable during their last days. Any curative treatments that cause your pet discomfort are discontinued. Palliative treatments to decrease your pet’s discomfort may be prescribed. These medications and procedures help alleviate their pain, decrease nausea, improve breathing ability, and increase mobility. In addition, acupuncture, laser therapy, and hydrotherapy may be employed to assist your pet.

If your pet has an incurable disease and has only days to months to live, hospice is a viable option. If you are not ready to say goodbye, but you also do not want your pet to suffer needlessly, providing hospice care can be a good option. 

Q: What will hospice care entail for my pet?

A: At-home hospice care can be extremely disruptive to your usual routine, because your pet will need constant supervision and support. Hospice care usually involves the following factors.

  • Maximizing calorie intake Pets affected by a terminal illness typically do not have a good appetite. Getting them to eat is paramount to preventing weight loss and muscle atrophy, and increasing their energy levels. You can offer any tempting treat they will eat.
  • Ensuring adequate hydration — Provide numerous options for your pet to drink clean, fresh water. Many sick pets have concurrent kidney issues that will worsen if they are not sufficiently hydrated.
  • Assisting pets who have limited mobility — Pets who are in too much pain to move around easily, or who have physical issues that keep them immobile, will need assistance to get food and water, and to get to an appropriate location to urinate and defecate. You may need to hold your pet in a specific posture while they relieve themselves. If your pet is on bed rest, you will need to turn them frequently to prevent bed sores.
  • Keeping their skin and coat dry and free from waste material — As your pet’s condition worsens, they may soil themselves frequently. Urine and fecal matter can cause skin irritation and infections if not washed away promptly. Also, your pet will not appreciate being left in such unsanitary conditions.
  • Providing palliative treatment — Medications and procedures can be used liberally to manage your pet’s symptoms and minimize their discomfort.
  • Spending time loving your pet — Your pet needs reassurance during this difficult time, and they will look to you for comfort. Ensure you spend time grooming and talking to your pet to show you love them.

Q: When do I know my pet is ready for euthanasia?

A: When to euthanize your pet is the hardest decision a pet owner can face. When you first become aware of your pet’s terminal illness, start recording their eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, and joy in life details. These factors are the most important to judge your pet’s quality of life. When your pet’s bad days become more frequent than their good days, you will likely need to start considering saying goodbye. Euthanasia is an extremely difficult decision, but can be the kindest option for your pet when their condition deteriorates. The American Animal Hospital Association-accredited team at Otay Pet Vets offers grief support to help you know when your pet is ready, and to help you cope during this terrible time.

Q: What happens when I decide it’s time to euthanize my pet?

A: Euthanasia is a painless process. Your pet may first be sedated to make them drowsy before the sodium pentobarbital is administered. Once the sodium pentobarbital is injected intravenously, your pet will become unconscious in only a few seconds, and death will occur in minutes. Some muscle twitching may occur, and your pet may urinate or defecate. Their heart will be auscultated to ensure they are gone, and you will be allowed time to say your final goodbyes. 

Your pet deserves the dignity of spending their final days as comfortable and serene as possible. Hospice care is a feasible option to ensure you get a little extra time in your pet’s company without causing them unnecessary suffering. If you would like to discuss whether hospice care is appropriate for your pet, contact the team at Otay Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.