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When the time comes, I will choose hospice care for my pets

Anna is a lifestyle writer who spends way too much time with her two dogs. When she is not writing, she is probably gardening, reading, tripping over dog toys, or trying to acquire more farm animals than she really needs.

I would want hospice care for myself, so I am choosing it for my pets

I don't like thinking about the end of my pets' lives. My pets are a part of my family, and I want them to be healthy, happy and comfortable every single day. Unfortunately, for the part of me that would rather pretend everyone and everything I love will live happily ever after forever and ever, this requires planning.

One of my dogs is getting older. She's 11 now, and has Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism and severe hip dysplasia. Today she is racing around the yard after a ball, but I know that in another year or two things will get rapidly worse for her. I can't pretend that they won't, and it wouldn't be fair to her if I did. When her conditions start to break her body down and she fully loses her hearing and sight, taking her in to see the vet every few weeks to adjust her medication is the last thing she is going to want to do. Not taking her in, of course, isn't an option either.

As part of my depressing planning process, I discovered veterinary hospice care.

What is veterinary hospice care?

I had heard of hospice care for people, but it never occurred to me that there was a hospice option for pets. Hospice care for pets is essentially a specialized plan that you and your veterinarian come up with to deal with a terminally ill pet. If your pet only has a few months to live but is not yet at the point of euthanasia, hospice care can offer a solution for the interim.

Hospice care is an option for:

  • Terminally ill pets
  • Older pets with severe lameness
  • Pets with recurring conditions or conditions that are unresponsive to therapy

More: 6 things I learned when I brought a cat home to my two dogs (hint: mayhem ensued)

In-home hospice care

Some veterinary practices offer in-home hospice care, which means that a vet or veterinary technician will come to your home to administer veterinary care, instead of putting your pet through the stress of going to the vet. Your vet may also show you how to perform some of these procedures yourself, like IV fluid administration and simple injections to make things even easier.

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How does it help?

Pain management and client education are probably the most important aspects of hospice care. Instead of multiple blood tests, hospice care may offer you the option to sign an NSAID release so that your pet can receive NSAID medication refills without the usual tests. Your hospice vet can also give you a longer supply of pain meds for emergencies, as well as medications to help your pet with urinary incontinence, panting and other symptoms that may go along with their condition.

Knowing how to deal with a dying pet is the most important part of hospice care for owners. When it comes time for my dog to enter hospice, I want to know what to expect and how to help her. I also want to be able to know when she's had enough so that I can make that ultimate decision in good conscience.

More: Osteoarthritis in dogs: What it could mean for your aging pup

At-home euthanasia

Eventually, we have to say goodbye. Hospice care can help you identify when your pet has had enough, and many hospice services offer at-home euthanasia so that your pet is as comfortable as possible when the time comes. Taking a pet to the vet for their final visit is stressful for everyone involved. It is emotional for the owners and confusing for the pet. I want my animals to spend their last minutes in a place they are familiar with.

After the fact, your vet will help you arrange for your pet's remains to be taken care of according to your wishes, and you can mourn your pet in the privacy of your home. Talk to your vet ahead of time about your preferences for euthanasia and the services they offer. That way, you will be fully equipped to make the tough decision ahead of you.

How much does veterinary hospice care cost?

Veterinary hospice care is growing in popularity as more and more pet owners like me show an interest. There is no set charge for hospice care, but according to a publication put out by Clinician's Brief, in-home hospice care from a technician averages around $30-40 an hour, and an in-home visit from a vet costs $100-150. This cost does not necessarily include treatments and medications, but it still puts it within the range of a regular veterinary office visit.

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How do you get veterinary hospice care?

There is pretty much only one way to get veterinary hospice care, and that is to ask your vet. Not all vets offer in-home visits, but your vet should be able to either refer you to a vet who does offer a hospice service or help you come up with a plan to keep your terminally ill pet comfortable.

I want my dog to be as comfortable as possible during her last days. For me, that means talking to my vet now about hospice care so that I know we have a plan in place for when the time comes. As someone who has a hard time talking about this sort of thing without bursting into tears, this will make it much easier for me, my veterinarian and my dog, as I am 100 percent positive I will not be able to hold it together long enough to have this conversation once the end draws near.

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