Improving Life Quality with Hospice for Dogs

Hospice for dogs is not about giving up: it's about focusing on comfort and closeness. There are so many things you can give your dog now.

Improving Life Quality with Hospice for Dogs

Read Time: 6 minutes

If you, and your veterinarian, notice your dog’s quality of life decreasing or see some warning signs that the end is near, hospice for dogs might be the right choice for you.

Hospice doesn’t mean you’re giving up — it means you are shifting your focus to comfortable longevity.

Hospice doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your dog. Deciding to proceed with hospice means you’re noticing her quality of life slipping and you want to increase her comfort levels.

Hospice doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end, either. Your dog could live longer with hospice than without. And dogs can be in hospice care for an unlimited amount of time. Sometimes, this is a few days, a few weeks, or a year- or longer.

Dogs can live longer in hospice than out of it — there is no limit to the amount of time spent in hospice!

And, when it comes time to say goodbye, you’re able to spend every last moment with him. You don’t have to go to the veterinarian’s office to say goodbye in a cold room. You’re able to lay with your dog on her favorite doggy bed next to her favorite toy as she slips away peacefully.

Hospice for Dogs: When It’s Time

Dr. Dressler covers hospice for dogs, and the studies associated with hospice, in Chapter 25 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Dr. D says the time may be right for hospice if you’re ready to stop focusing on treatment and start focusing on quality of life.

You might be ready for hospice care when you become more focused on comfort than longevity. You might sense your dog’s last days coming. Her exhaustion might start to become more apparent.

Just as Dr. Dressler says, hospice doesn’t mean you’re giving up. And, I really want to emphasize this point because that’s the fear associated with hospice care.

Hospice means you’re taking a different route. And your dog might live longer by doing so.

In Dr. D’s book, he relates hospice care and comfort to a headache. When we have a headache, we’re less likely to move around. We’re less like to complete our daily routine. And less likely to even get up.

Once our headache is gone, we’re ready to start the day. We want to go back to our normal routine. Same with our dogs.

If your dog isn’t feeling well, he might hide it for a while, but the pain becomes exhausting. Hospice helps remove the pain to let him enjoy the time he has left with you.

What Exactly Constitutes Hospice for Dogs?

Hospice for dogs is just like hospice for humans: focused on life quality and comfort.

So if your dog is in pain, give medications, supplements, and lifestyle changes to make sure the pain is relieved. For example, limiting walks to keep them from re-injuring themselves. Or using warm compresses on sore spots. Doing gentle massage and any of the body therapies in the chapter on lifestyle changes.

It could mean that you give them their favorite foods every day, not just on cheat days. I don’t mean that you give them a LOT of their favorite foods if they aren’t good for them. But just a little treat can really brighten your pup’s day.

Getting outside in the fresh air feels great to most dogs. So if your dog is immobile, making a safe, quiet spot outside where they can snooze in the sun or breathe deep in the breeze is a good idea.

If your dog IS mobile, make sure that they get good exercise — enough that they feel relaxed, not so much that their body is stressed.

Make a bucket list for your dog and work on crossing things off.

There are many other things you might do for your dog, depending upon their specific needs. There is no “one right plan” for hospice because it’s personalized. You might change their bedding, give them a special place to be during the day, buy new toys, or have special play dates.

This is a time to pay close attention to YOUR dog and give them what THEY love.

It’s a beautiful time, even though it’s bittersweet. And remember — hospice care for dogs seems to make dogs feel GREAT about their life. Some dogs outlive their prognosis just with hospice care!

You can take care of many of your dog’s needs at home, but you can also have a hospice veterinarian service come to you and help you to manage the process.

Lap of Love, for example, is a national network of veterinarians dedicated to at-home hospice care, including euthanasia.

It’s a tough topic, but we can’t avoid it — sometimes, hospice care ends in euthanasia. Your veterinarian might also provide this service or be able to refer you to someone else in your area who can.

What Happens During Euthanasia?

Euthanasia is a pain-free procedure. You don’t have to worry about your dog going through pain during the process.

Veterinarians usually provide two shots. The first shot is a sedative. The sedative makes the transition from consciousness to unconsciousness easier. And brings your dog into a deeper and deeper sleep. After 5-10 minutes, your dog is no longer aware of his surroundings.

When your family is ready, the second injection is given. The second injection is usually pentobarbital, an anesthetic that will cause your dog’s heart to slow and eventually stop beating. The injection is given intravenously. And your dog isn’t aware of the process.

Although there’s no research to support this, dogs still understand you’re there with them saying goodbye and letting them know it’s okay.

Why Have In-Home Euthanasia

Euthanasia is preferred to be in-home by many dog guardians. If a hospice veterinarian euthanizes your dog in your home, you can have a more personal goodbye.

You don’t have to get in your car, drive to the veterinarian’s office and have him lie down on a cold table to say goodbye. You’re able to say goodbye in his favorite place. In his dog bed. And he can be surrounded by the whole family comfortably.

In-home euthanasia may be more comforting to you, too. You have so many memories shared with your dog in your home, and being able to say goodbye here is helpful to the grieving process.

Hospice Care for Dogs: True Tails

We have a couple of “true tails” to share with you about hospice for dogs. These were posted to our private Dog Cancer Support Group on Facebook and are used with the writers’ permission.

“My Scottie has TCC and a bad liver, so we are not able to continue with any anti-cancer drugs. We just consulted with Lap of Love, a newer National Hospice Pet Care veterinary group. She [the veterinarian] came to the house and did an assessment of my dog and home. She had some suggestions for her symptoms and ordered some meds. They have a mail order pharmacy they work with. She gave me information about their services and how the euthanasia at home process works. The vet said she would come anytime night or day if needed. I dread that day, but am comforted that when it is time it will happen at home.” -Pat F., Chagrin Falls, OH

“My baby Elmer is on hospice right now. So far I’m finding it very helpful. I am using Lap of Love hospice services. I found out about them from using Lap of Love (LoL) for in home pet euthanasia for my sweet boy Homer. Dr. Lisa Littlejohn is the vet from LoL. She is amazing, compassionate, caring and a source of comfort in addition to coming up with treatments to help prolong Elmer’s time with us without pain or discomfort. LoL is a national organization that includes hospice services, in-home euthanasia, and will arrange private cremation or cremation including taking your animal to the crematorium. Dr. Littlejohn has said she considers it an honor to go through and provide care and comfort to our furbabies and their family at this time in our lives. She considers it a calling. I would definitely use LoL. I don’t think I could have gotten through these past months (and the future) without her.” -Debbie S., Spring Hills, FL

Thanks to our group members for being so willing to share their stories to help others!

My Dog, Paws

When it was time for my dog, Paws, to be euthanized, my veterinarian allowed me to go in the back door so I didn’t have to walk through the remainder of the veterinary office. I walked through the back door, into an examination room where he allowed me to talk to her and say goodbye before administering the medications for euthanasia. I watched her drift away and held her paw cherishing all of the memories we had shared.

She wasn’t in pain during the process, and I was relieved to know she wouldn’t be dealing with the stress and pain any longer from her cancer.

He did all he could to ensure I was comfortable, as was my dog.

I didn’t know about at-home hospice for dogs back then but had I known, I would have enrolled my dog in such a hospice program.

I would have wanted to say goodbye in my own home. I would have wanted her to be lying in her favorite spot and not have to make the drive home with her following her passing. I would have stayed with her a moment longer instead of leaving the veterinarian’s office to make the drive back.

Make Your Own Decision

You know your dog the best. You know what’s best for him.

If you think hospice may be in your dog’s best interest, put your mind more at ease by calling your veterinarian to discuss the option. Schedule a meet-and-greet and go from there.

You are your dog’s guardian, and it’s your responsibility to ensure you’re doing what’s right for your dog.

Best Regards,

Amber Drake

Editorial Note: This post was originally published on a retired blog about dog cancer.

Amber Drake and her dog.

Amber L. Drake, EdD (ABD), MEd, BSc, C.L.A.S.S. Certified

Amber L. Drake has earned a Doctor of Education (ABD), a Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She has completed coursework in Pre-Veterinary Science at Cornell University, Veterinary Technology at Penn Foster and Biochemistry at UC Berkeley.

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