Understanding Palliative Care for Pets

April 14, 2023

When our pets enter the last stages of their lives, it can become important to consider palliative care and planning for the transition toward the end of life. Palliative care focuses on maintaining the quality of life through the use of medications and environmental changes that provide support for conditions such as a decrease in mobility or a loss of cognition (senility).

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Because it prioritizes managing pain and maintaining comfort, palliative treatment has become an increasingly popular option for pet owners seeking to maximize their pet’s quality of life when the disease process is not curable.

Scheduling an appointment with us at Ballantyne Vet to discuss these changes and how they can be managed can be an important step in helping your pet maximize its comfort and happiness.

It may be difficult to acknowledge that our friends are entering the latter stages of their lives. Having a thoughtful conversation with your veterinarian about both how to help and what to expect can make a tremendous difference in your pet’s quality of life as well as offer you some peace of mind through understanding these processes.


What Is Pet Palliative Care?

Palliative care, sometimes called comfort care, is a thoughtful evaluation of your pet’s chronic medical conditions from the point of view of maximizing their quality of life through the use of medications and environmental changes without the expectation of improvement or cure.

Palliative pet care is not about extending lifespan but allowing a pet to live happily with the people they love as the end approaches.

Depending on the pet and its circumstances, palliative care typically lasts from days to months. However, pet palliative care is an inherently temporary measure, and you should never forget its ultimate goal: a comfortable, fulfilling life for you and your pet.

When the time comes, and palliative care is no longer effective, we can help you make considered, compassionate choices for your pet.


Common Conditions Treated With Palliative Care

Ballantyne Vet employs palliative care strategies to treat many diseases, conditions, and illnesses. Conditions treatable with palliative methods tend to be slowly progressive or degenerative rather than sudden, acute illnesses. Some common conditions include:

  • Severe arthritis/joint pain: While not life-threatening, arthritis and joint pain are not curable and can decrease the quality of life in pets through pain and compromising mobility. Treatment focuses on pain management and lifestyle changes like supplements, dietary changes, and changes to the home environment. Vets may also recommend additional medical interventions like hydrotherapy, acupuncture, or cold laser treatments.
  • Old age: Unfortunately, there is no way to stop a pet from aging. Caring for a senior pet will likely include some form of palliative care, with common interventions including a special diet, environments arranged for ease of movement, diapers, and frequent vet visits to watch for potential issues.
  • Kidney failure: In addition to a special diet prescribed by a vet, pets with kidney disease may need to be given subcutaneous fluids at home. These fluids help bolster kidney function, prolonging life while maintaining comfort.
  • Cancer: When cancer is not treatable, the focus shifts to managing pain and other symptoms. Prescription pain medication, massage, and acupuncture can all help keep a pet comfortable. Pets may also benefit from nutritional supplements and subcutaneous fluids depending on the individual situation.

When done correctly, palliative care can be an essential and enriching part of a pet’s end-of-life care journey, providing comfort to both the pet and the pet owner.


Benefits of Palliative Care for Pets and Their Owners

It can be hard to decide to stop seeking active treatment for your pet. But in cases where a cure is not possible, palliative care offers a compassionate option for at-home pet care.

Treatment seeking a definitive diagnosis and cure can often be grueling, invasive, and expensive. On the other hand, pets undergoing palliative treatment can spend their last days in comfort, surrounded by the things and people they love.

Thoughtful consultation with your veterinarian can help you arrive at an appropriate decision about continued diagnostics, hospitalization when necessary, as well as when the toll, both physical and emotional, of those things may be more than is reasonable to bear and it becomes time to move to comfort care as a primary plan.

While, unfortunately, no treatment can eliminate the emotional difficulty of having a pet moving into its last stages of life, palliative care’s goal is to allow you time to make peace with the reality of the approaching end of your pet’s life while hopefully also granting both of you some valuable quality time together.

You can enjoy the benefit of good days spent with your pet and the comforting knowledge that you have done your best to make a beloved friend’s end as happy and stress-free as possible.


What to Expect When Seeking Pet Palliative Care

Before embarking on a palliative care plan with your pet, we need to look at the big picture. Caregiving for a pet with special needs is not easy and can mean significant changes to a household. The primary consideration should be your pet’s quality of life. Will palliative care be able to keep them comfortable or only prolong their discomfort?

It is also essential to consider your emotional well-being. Watching a beloved pet decline slowly can be difficult. Providing palliative care takes a significant amount of time and energy. It can also mean taking on a considerable financial burden, depending on the course of treatment.

At Ballantyne Vet, we will discuss plans thoroughly with you to decide if palliative care is the right choice for your furry friend. We will both need to approach the situation with an open heart and mind as to what is realistically possible, both from the standpoint of expectation of your pet’s medical condition, as well as what is realistic as far as care that can be done at home.

This is an important time for all of us on the care team, from doctors to caregivers, to be realistic as to what can be accomplished.

Never hesitate to ask questions. Palliative pet care is complex and emotionally challenging, and we understand if you feel confused or overwhelmed. It may be helpful to prepare some questions in advance, like:

  • Is my pet still able to enjoy life?
  • Are they able to eat, walk, and eliminate independently?
  • Will further treatment reduce their quality of life?
  • How will I know when it is time to stop palliative care?

The primary goal of palliative pet care is always to keep the pet comfortable, and the evaluation of the pet’s condition is a daily task that needs to be carried out at home. As time passes, the initial treatment plan may need to be adjusted based on your observations.


Tips for Caregiving for a Pet Receiving Palliative Care

Caregiving can be grueling, and there is no way to ease the grief that comes with pet loss entirely. But there are some things you can do to make pet end-of-life care easier, including:

  • Ask for help: The day-to-day care necessities can be overwhelming if left to only one person. To reduce stress and chaos, schedule and assign responsibilities to multiple people during the day when possible.
  • Remember the heart: When tackling a challenging situation, getting lost in the daily tasks and practicalities can be easy. However, emotional support and connection are as crucial during palliative pet care as practical support. Make sure to spend time with your animal simply enjoying being together, and never hesitate to reach out to friends and family when you need extra love.
  • Make a plan: Eventually, palliative care will no longer be enough. When that time comes, it is helpful to have a plan in place. Whether you choose to transition your pet into a home hospice care plan in hopes of a natural death or choose to help ease them out of their pain through euthanasia, having a plan in place can reduce stress during a moment of profound grief.

While undeniably difficult, providing palliative care for pets is critical to pet ownership. Whatever you choose, the team at Ballantyne Vet will help you make the right plan for you and your pet. Options like at-home euthanasia can help make a difficult situation less distressing for both pet and owner, making those final moments gentler.


Palliative Care — Is it Time?

No one likes to experience the inevitable decline brought on by disease and age, but pets rely on their owners to make responsible, compassionate choices when these changes begin to occur. The comfort and pain management provided by palliative care is one option for handling a beloved companion’s end-of-life needs.

By being proactive and talking to an expert in advance, pet owners can make a difficult situation less stressful for themselves and their pets. If you live in the South Charlotte area and are seeing signs that suggest it’s time to consider palliative care, contact Ballantyne Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment with our team of compassionate experts.

Whether you need palliative care support, in-office or at-home euthanasia services, or even cremation services through our partners at Faithful Companions, the team at Ballantyne Vet is here for you.

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