When a pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or when age begins to affect its body and mind, owners have a difficult decision to make. Like people, sick pets need a lot of care if they are not to suffer before they die naturally or – in the case of an animal - are put to sleep to relieve suffering. But many owners don’t feel qualified to care for their pet in its last few weeks and don't know what to do for the best.
Animal home hospice care is an old idea that has recently been revived in the United States. Now pioneering vets such as Susan Gregersen have brought it across 'the pond' to caring owners in the UK.
Hospice Care compassionately bridges the time between the point an owner decides to no longer pursue a cure and the moment their pet is ready to pass on.
‘It is a brave step to take when you bring a beloved pet home knowing there is no cure to give them,’ says Susan, the UK’s leading hospice vet.
'The best way to give a pet individual treatment is in a comfortable setting and familiar environment. Owners play an important part in a pet home hospice situation, and care focuses on pain control and comfort for the animal as well as on 24-hour advice and support for the family when the end is approaching. It's a pet-friendly, stay-at-home alternative to hospital procedures, investigations and further tests.'
Related: caring for a pet during illness
Who needs hospice care?
'A hospice vet tailor-makes a care plan for a pet so they can be pain free through to a natural or, more often, a gently assisted end,’ says Susan, whose practice, Vets2Home, operates in Sussex and on the Surrey and Kent borders. ‘This is more than possible at home.'
The diseases that most frequently warrant home hospice or end-of-life palliative care for pets are:
- Incurable organ failure (kidneys, thyroid, liver and heart are common examples)
- Osteoarthritis and severe lameness
- Progressive neurological conditions, including dementia and seizures
- Senior pets reaching the end of life (such as with ‘catzheimers’)
- Other unmanageable geriatric or disease related problems (such as soiling inappropriately and vocalising)
In addition, treatment such as medical pain management, infection control, wound care, diet and mental stimulation may need constant adjustment.
A peaceful end
Kono, a much-loved, large wolf hybrid, was treated at home in Brighton, Sussex by Susan after becoming acutely lame and then receiving a terminal diagnosis of bone cancer.
'Kono was a part of our family and a unique and special animal,' says owner Dona Roche-Tarry. 'He was shy and not used to being around people, so taking him to a vet was an anxious experience for us all. Because of the service provided by Vets2Home we were able to treat him and keep him calm and happy in his last few weeks of his life.’
Related: when is the right time to say goodbye?