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. Making the decision 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: totally focused on life quality and comfort.
So if your dog is in pain, giving 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, making 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 get to 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 totally personalized. You might change their bedding, or give them a special place to be during the day, or 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 own 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 2 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, which is 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.
In my opinion, 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 your dog is euthanized by a hospice veterinarian, in your home, you are able to 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 (only for readers of the book), 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 in a sense to know she wouldn’t be dealing with the stress and pain any longer from her cancer.
He did all he could to make sure I was comfortable, as was my dog.
I didn’t know about at-home hospice for dogs back then, but would I have known, I would have enrolled my dog in such a hospice program.
I would have wanted to be able to say goodbye in my own home. I would have wanted her to be laying 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 talk about the option. Schedule a meet-and-greet and go from there.
You are your dog’s guardian, and it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re doing what’s right for your dog.
If you’ve had an experience with hospice for dogs you would like to share, post a comment. Other readers will really benefit from your share!
Amber L. Drake has been working with dogs for over 10 years. Throughout this time, she has served as a Canine Behaviorist and Canine Nutritionist working with dogs throughout the United States. She has worked with private clients, rescue organizations, shelter organizations and corporations. She has also been an Adjunct Instructor of Biology at a local community college teaching Animal Sciences for the past seven years and Kaplan University for the past two years.
In addition to experience in the field, she 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. Drake is currently finishing a second Master’s Degree with Kaplan University.
She is continuously enrolling in additional courses, seminars and conferences to remain up-to-date in all dog-related topics. She has a desire to share her passion, knowledge and experiences with others.