This week, I had the interesting experience of being told that vets have been doing this kind of work for eons, and that hospice & palliative care for pets is really nothing new. As an educator in this field, and passionate changemaker for end-of-life care for animals & their families, I found this comment really striking. IS hospice & palliative care anything new? Or is it, as was suggested, just something that the younger generation of veterinarians is now marketing? I would emphatically argue that it is, in fact, something quite distinct from our traditional veterinary care for aging & dying pets.
Ask any Whole Animal hospice family (or scroll through this blog), and they will tell you their own story of what this kind of care has meant to them. In my work, I emphasize community-building, and the idea that there is a bond that families share who have experienced true comprehensive end-of-life care for their beloved animals. We need only look through the photos from Ithaca’s First Annual Community Pet Memorial Service to know this to be true. Together, we are changing the way animals age & die in our communities, and how human caregivers cope with the process. The integration of social work alone is just one step, but an essential one, that sets this care apart from our dominant paradigm within the veterinary profession. Thanks to an average appointment length of 1.5 hours for new patient evaluations, as well as the extraordinary work of Ellen Abrams, LMFT, anticipatory grief and bereavement support for families facing the death of a pet is no longer an anomaly, it is standard of care.
In answering the question, “What is hospice & palliative care for pets?” I emphasize that it may include all or some of the following: end of life options counseling, education regarding the death & dying process, regularly scheduled home visits with administration of pain medications & nursing care, support through palliated but not intentionally hastened death, personalized in-home euthanasia services, aftercare, memorialization, and bereavement support.
Hospice & palliative care providers should have experience and knowledge in all of these areas beyond that of a general wellness veterinarian. Most have experience within the human hospice field, and all should have an established relationship with social workers and mental health professionals so that they may adequately care for pet owners. A hospice & palliative care provider should be pursuing continuing education in both veterinary and human hospice, and staying current with established hospice, and pain management organizations.
Whole Animal is very proud, not only of our ability to fulfill all of these criteria for our local community, but also of our leadership role in the larger veterinary hospice & palliative care movement. (See the “About” section of this website for more.) Pet Parents, I encourage you to speak with your veterinarian about geriatric care & end-of-life options, and realize that you are not alone. This is not a one-size-fits-all area of care. Veterinarians, I have thoroughly enjoyed our collaborative relationships & look forward to continuing to provide personalized care for your geriatric and end-of-life patients as a team.
Is hospice & palliative care for pets really anything new? Yes. I believe it is.