Part 4: End of life pet care with illness or cancer

When to put your pet to sleep

When a pet is diagnosed with cancer or any other terminal illness, pet parents need to cope with the imminent loss of one of their family members. This is one of the most difficult experiences for a pet parent. In most cases, as cancer progresses the pet’s health will start to decline, and it is important to create an end-of-life care plan aimed at minimizing the discomfort, pain and suffering associated with this devastating disease. You and your family will need to decide if you will provide hospice or palliative care to your pet at home—with the supervision of a veterinarian—or if you will end his or her suffering with euthanasia.

Pet Hospice Care

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), pet hospice care, refers to care that will allow a terminally ill animal to live comfortably at home or in a facility. Pet hospice gives pet parents time to make decisions regarding a companion animal with a terminal illness or condition and to prepare for the pending death of the animal. The goal is to make your pet’s final days or weeks more pleasant, it is a personal choice and philosophy based on the principle that death is a part of life and can be dignified.

Pets who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and who have a low life expectancy are candidates for veterinary hospice care. The veterinary hospice team consists of the veterinarian and trained staff who provide expertise in palliative care and pain control for such terminally ill animals. Maximizing the benefits of veterinary hospice requires the active participation of the family members.

Hospice care should always be supervised and guided by a veterinarian in order to prevent prolonging pain and suffering. A trained veterinarian will teach pet parents and family members how to provide intensive home care in order to keep an ill pet as comfortable as possible.

Read the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Guidelines for Veterinary Hospice Care:

Considering Euthanasia

Euthanasia provides a painless, peaceful end for an animal who would otherwise continue to suffer. Veterinarians receive the appropriate training to provide your pet with a humane and gentle death. The procedure is very similar to undergoing general anesthesia. It consists of the administration of a sedative, followed by a special medication.

Taking the decision to euthanize your pet is very difficult. You should try to determine whether or not your pet still has a good quality of life. The following questions may guide you through the decision process:
• Is your pet suffering from pain that cannot be significantly alleviated by medication?

• Will a longer treatment improve his or her quality of life? Will it simply maintain a poor quality of life?

• Can your family afford treatment?

• Can your pet stand up, walk, defecate, and urinate on his or her own?

• Does he or she still want to eat?

There is no right time for euthanasia—each patient is different. Keep in mind that the goal is to alleviate the pain and suffering of your pet. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you on when is it is appropriate to euthanize your pet—he or she will base this decision on your pet’s current health condition.


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