In veterinary medicine, a small dog or cat 9 years of age or older is considered a geriatric patient. Medium to large breed dogs are considered geriatric at age 6-7 years, depending on their size. Due to advancements in modern veterinary medicine, our much loved geriatric pets are living longer and will often have a slow decline in their mental and physical abilities that owners often attribute to “old age.” These “old age” changes can often be improved from alterations (comfort care techniques) in your pet’s home environment and possibly from medication, to help them live the rest of their life as happy and pain-free as possible. In addition, home nursing care techniques can be implemented to help you improve your pet’s quality of life and maintain that special bond you have with your pet.
The International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care defines palliative care as “the total care of patients with a life-limiting illness that is not responsive to curative treatment. Control of pain, of other symptoms, and of psychological, social and spiritual problems, is paramount. The goal of palliative care is achievement of the best quality of life for patients and their families.”
Palliative care should be started as soon as your pet has been diagnosed with a serious disease. You may have pursued treatments in your regular vet clinic, or you may have been told there is nothing that can be done to cure your pet. If you want to continue care at home or if your pet did not respond to the treatment and you decide to treat the symptoms at home, palliative or comfort care can be started immediately.
While human hospice care has been around since the 1960‘s, this area of veterinary medicine is relatively new and still evolving. In the true sense, hospice care is a very specific type of end-of-life care that supports the patient and family. Hospice care always provides palliative care to allow terminally ill pets to live out their lives as fully, comfortably, and pain free as possible until natural death occurs or the pet’s caregivers decide on humane euthanasia. In human medicine, hospice care is provided when a person has six months or less to live. In veterinary medicine, hospice care is utilized when the pet has several weeks or days to live. Hospice care may be an alternative to immediate euthanasia, when you feel you or your pet are not yet ready to say goodbye. Hospice recognizes that death is a natural part of the cycle of life, and does not have to be feared. Hospice care does not prolong nor hasten death. Hospice care focuses on the physical and emotional needs of both you and your pet.