Animal Hospice: a philosophy and/or a program of care that addresses the physical, emotional and social needs of animals in the advanced stages of a progressive, life-limiting illness, disability or age-related decline. Animal hospice is inclusive of life ending by hospice-supported natural death or euthanasia. Animal hospice also addresses the psychosocial and spiritual needs of the human caregivers in preparation for the death of the animal and their subsequent grief. Animal hospice care is provided by an interdisciplinary team with animal medical care under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.
1. A Caring Attitude & Approach
A caring approach involves sensitivity, empathy, and compassion and demonstrates concern for the animal. It also shows concern for all aspects of a patient’s journey--not just the medical, nursing, or psychosocial issues. An unbiased and non-judgmental approach is offered in which personality, intellect, ethnic origin, religious belief, or other individual factors do not prejudice the delivery of optimal care and decision-making.
2. Caregiver and Family Support
Animal hospice caregiver support is designed to help by providing information about physical, emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual self-care; assisting caregivers in evaluating their options; and guiding them as they navigate the unfamiliar territory of their loved one’s day-to-day and end-of-life care. In this way, an acceptable degree of quality of life until the end of life can be achieved for both companion animals and their people. Indeed, animals receiving comfort care may still enjoy several more months or even years of life, allowing the caregiving family to adapt to the dying process and the subsequent death, be physically and spiritually present when it occurs, and eventually heal from the ensuing grief.
3. The Hospice Plan of Care
The patient and family are very involved in determining the plan of care, individualized according to their particular desires and needs and then updated throughout the end-of-life process.The hospice plan of care must serve the patient’s and family’s values, goals, and beliefs, and its focus is on the whole being who is experiencing a life-ending disease process, not just on the disease itself.
4. A Team Approach to Care
The interdisciplinary team (IDT) is composed of those collaborating with the caregiving family to provide supportive care to an ill and/or dying animal and is a cornerstone of hospice philosophy. Our experience has shown us the value of a carefully developed Animal Hospice IDT: bringing comprehensive care to an animal patient and to the caregiving family.
5. Sensitive communication
Sensitive team communication ensures that the caregiver and family understand what is happening at all times and are offered proper support when required. Continued reassessment is a necessity for all patients and applies as much to psychosocial issues as it does to pain and other physical symptoms.
6. Provision of Quality of Life
Hospice maintains dignity by focusing respectfully on both animals’ and caregivers’ comfort and quality of life.
7. Ethical treatment
Treatment known to be futile, given because "you have to do something," is unethical. In hospice care, all efforts are directed toward relieving suffering and maintaining quality of life--not prolonging life at all costs. The primary caregiver is the most appropriate leader of the team, acting as decision-maker and often intuitively understanding the animal’s preferences, such as refusing a previously accepted treatment, medicine or food once a variety has been offered. An unbiased, non judgmental attitude is critical in all decision-making.
Animal Hospice and Palliative Care Interdisciplinary Team (IDT): A team of individuals with diverse training and education, collaborating with the family of an AHPC patient to determine the mission, to establish treatment goals, and to plan and deliver care. Team members collaborate to address patient and caregiver problems that are too complex to be addressed effectively by any one discipline or by multiple disciplines approaching the problem independently of each other. Team members coordinate overlapping roles to serve the patient and caregiver effectively and efficiently.
Euthanasia-assisted Death (EAD): death of an animal that comes as a result of an intentionally planned euthanasia procedure, leading to the termination of life through humane, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-approved methods that cause as little pain, discomfort, and anxiety as possible, for the purpose of relieving an animal’s suffering.
Hospice Supported Natural Death (HSND): death of an animal who has been supported by one or more of a wide range of viable palliative care measures, including the treatment of pain and other signs of discomfort, allowing the animal to die in his or her own good time, without hastening or postponing the process.
Natural Death: death that occurs in its own time without euthanasia, accident, or an act of violence.
Palliative Care: a program of care that supports or improves the patient‘s Quality of Life (QOL) by relieving suffering. This term can be used when treating curable or chronic conditions, as well as during end-of-life care.
Palliative Sedation: the controlled administration of medications that reduce consciousness in AHPC patients whose intolerable pain and suffering are unresponsive to interventions less suppressive of consciousness. Its express and sole purpose is to relieve these patients’ intolerable pain and suffering. Veterinary palliative sedation is administered on the recommendation of the patient’s IDT, which must include a licensed veterinarian sufficiently trained in AHPC. Imminent death is not a prerequisite.
Quality of Life(QOL): the overall sense of well-being of an individual animal, taking into account physical, social, and psycho-emotional components, as perceived and experienced by the animal.
Suffering: an unpleasant or painful mental experience, feeling, emotion, or sensation; an umbrella term that covers a wide range of negative subjective experiences, physical and/or emotional in nature and varying in both intensity and duration, which may be experienced by sentient beings. Intolerable suffering is experienced when stressors exceed an animal’s capacity for coping and adaptation, resulting in perceived helplessness, hopelessness, and exhaustion of cognitive, emotional and psychosocial resources.
Our Euthanasia Policy
Caregivers should be offered the opportunity to decide whether a hospice-supported natural death (HSND) or a euthanasia-assisted death (EAD) is the right option for their animal and for themselves, bearing in mind that this choice may change at a later date.
A personal decision should be made after carefully weighing the medical facts as presented by their veterinary team as well as the opinions of other members of the IDT and most importantly, the values, goals, and beliefs of the animal’s caregivers. All team members are to provide nonjudgmental and unbiased support for the family’s decision. Any team member who feels unable to offer this support would do well to abstain.