Pet hospice increases options for pets and owners

Veterinary at-home hospice services provide end-of-life care for ill pets, improving quality of life for animals and potentially extending life, albeit only for a few days in some cases. Hospice care must be administered by a veterinarian who works in conjunction with the pet’s regular veterinarian to provide palliative treatment such as pain management and catheter placement. San Francisco Chronicle

Shea  Cox has spent her 11-year career as a veterinarian fighting to save  animals’ lives.

Now, as a provider of pet hospice, she shepherds her patients through death,  tending to their needs and those of their guardians, relieving animals’ pain so  they can live out their final days surrounded by loved ones, not in the sterile  confines of a veterinary clinic.

Modeled on human hospice, the growing field of pet hospice offers palliative  care to animals in their homes. It ushers in a profound shift in how people care  for dying and elderly pets, providing an option that falls between aggressive  medical intervention and immediate euthanasia.

For pet owners, in-home care gives solace as they make painful  end-of-life decisions.

Jeff  Aoki of Oakland was in Colorado for his father’s funeral when he got a call  that would only deepen his grief. His yellow Labrador, Sunny, had cancer that  had spread throughout her body.

“I was devastated,” Aoki said. “Sunny was my rock, my best friend and  constant companion.”

Aoki and his fiance, Sandy  Wong, arranged for Sunny to receive pet hospice care from Cox. The care,  which included a urinary catheter (a tumor had made it impossible for her to  urinate), gave her a few extra days at home.

Aoki flew home, and for several days the couple showered Sunny with love,  trips to the beach and park – and filet mignon.

When it was time to say goodbye, Cox put her to sleep in their backyard. “It  was a sad, sad time but this made it so much easier,” Aoki said.

Missing plans

Cox – who was a human hospice nurse before becoming a vet – got the  inspiration for her newly launched Bridge  Veterinary Services while working as an ER/critical care vet at Pet  Emergency Treatment and Specialty Referral Center, a Berkeley  animal hospital.

“Working in that setting, I kept seeing nothing about making a plan if a  patient had an incurable disease,” she said. “The choice was between either  being in the hospital to get better or having to euthanize. It seemed like a  disconnect; there had to be a way to offer something in between.”

With almost two-thirds of American households owning pets, it’s not  surprising that attitudes toward animals’ final days have evolved from the rural  past, when they were unceremoniously put down. The overwhelming majority of pet  owners consider their companion animals to be family members, according to a  2011 Harris poll. At the same time, more and more people have witnessed their  loved ones using human hospice.

Extending care

“We’ve decided as a culture to support human passing as compassionately as  we’re able to, with hospice and palliative care,” said Oakland resident Erika  Macs. As a hospital chaplain, she is intimately familiar with end-of-life  issues. “It’s a natural progression that we would extend that to the animals in  our lives that we’re caretakers for.”

When her 17-year-old cat, Mittens, became critically ill last year, Macs  turned to Dr. Anthony  Smith, a Hercules vet whose Rainbow  Bridge Vet Services has offered hospice and home euthanasia for a  dozen years.

“Dr. Smith was able to bring both a medical model and a sense of respectful,  compassionate presence,” Macs said.

“The beauty of human hospice is it gives time to have (final)  conversations,” Macs said. “With pets, it also gives time to say goodbye. The  better the closure, the more quickly a person is able to heal and  move on.”

Medical supervision

Pet hospice must be provided by a veterinarian because it involves medical  assessments and pain medicines. Pet hospice vets coordinate with the animal’s  regular vet. As in human hospice, if pets get better, they can transition back  to regular medical treatment.

The costs pencil out to be more than regular check-ups but much less than  invasive medical intervention. Bridge Veterinary Services, for instance, charges  $250 for an initial appointment that includes a two- or three-hour at-home  assessment and such initial care as inserting IV tubes or catheters.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/pets/article/Hospice-for-pets-comforts-owners-too-3958378.php#ixzz2FxpiHcoa

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