Dog Hospice and Palliative Care

Stephanie Howe, DVM
By Stephanie Howe, DVM on Feb. 25, 2023
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When your dog has been recently diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, it can be very difficult to process. It’s even more difficult to know what the right choice for care is. There are many options for care in your dog's final days, including palliative care and hospice.

What Is Dog Hospice?

Hospice care in veterinary medicine is quite similar to hospice in human medicine. Hospice care’s main focus is maintaining a dog's comfort and quality of life as they near the end of their life. But another focus is providing emotional support for you as a caregiver.

A dog entering hospice may be approaching the end stages of life due to old age, illness, or disease. Hospice care is usually initiated when a pet’s remaining time is short. Your dog’s hospice care team will help ensure that their time with your family is comfortable and safe.

Medications will be given to your dog to provide comfort and minimize symptoms. They are not meant to treat or cure their underlying disease. This is similar to humans on hospice care who receive morphine to keep them relaxed and comfortable.

Veterinarians who specialize in hospice care can assist you in setting up appointments, adjusting your dog’s home environment, and recommending medications. Euthanasia is often the natural progression of hospice care. Ultimately, hospice is meant to give your dog and your family peace during your dog’s final time with you.

What Is Palliative Care for Dogs?

Palliative care is very similar to hospice care, but with palliative care, direct medical care is still given to address a dog’s medical illness, in addition to supportive care. Palliative care can be an option for any disease for which there is no cure. It’s provided at home by a dog’s human caregivers and family.

Depending on your dog’s condition, they may continue to go to a veterinary clinic for care as needed, or your vet may recommend setting up appointments at home with a palliative care or mobile veterinarian. The goal of this care is to make their condition less severe with the help of traditional and integrative treatments to improve their daily quality of life.

What Types of Illnesses Lead to Palliative or Hospice Care?

The main difference between those diseases that can lead a pet to enter hospice care or palliative care is whether the disease is life-threatening and your dog’s life expectancy due to the illness is shortened.  

Examples of diseases that can lead to palliative care can include kidney failure, certain kinds of cancer, early stages of heart failure, diabetes, dementia, and arthritis.

Once a dog is past a point in the disease where medications can no longer prevent the symptoms, they would enter hospice care. At this point, the focus switches from treating the disease to making your dog as comfortable as possible and relieving discomfort caused by symptoms.

A pet may be moved to hospice care, for instance, if they are diagnosed with aggressive cancers or once they enter late-stage heart failure or kidney disease.

What Treatments Can You Expect for a Dog in Palliative Care or Hospice?

The primary goal for both hospice and palliative care is pain management. This can be accomplished through medications, supplements, and home adaptations. You will also need to make sure they are getting enough nutrition and mental stimulation:

  • Ramps, carpet runners, and orthopedic beds can all help make your dog more comfortable in getting around the house. Some pets may need a sling, harness, or even a wheelchair to help them get around comfortably.
  • Integrative treatments like acupuncture, laser therapy, and massage can be very effective to decrease inflammation.
  • Treatment for symptoms that negatively affect your dog’s quality of life will be provided. They may include anti-nausea medication, cough suppressants, or joint supplements.
  • Dogs in palliative or hospice care have often developed urinary or fecal incontinence, so it’s important to ensure that any soiling is cleaned and that your pet’s fur is also clean. Utilizing the services of a mobile groomer may benefit a pet that has anxiety or mobility issues.
  • Your dog may need a bland or prescription diet, or even an appetite stimulant to help them to eat.
  • Your dog may need enrichment for their mental or physical needs. You should continue to offer stimulation while it is enjoyable for them. While a pet’s physical needs are important, it’s also critical to maintain their emotional well-being and dignity as long as possible.

Does My Dog Need Hospice or Palliative Care?

Making the decision of what kind of end-of-life care your dog needs is never easy. There are many factors to consider when looking into the type of care you want for your dog. The chances of their being cured, treatment cost, potential side effects of treatment, your dog’s emotional and physical state, and your ability to provide care at home are all factored into the equation.

Regardless of what type of care your dog ends up needing, it is helpful to have a plan in place for the end of their journey.

Dogs generally transition from palliative care to hospice when measures to control their illness are no longer working and their quality of life is starting to decline. With hospice care, we want to prevent suffering and provide as much pain support as possible.

Pet Hospice or Euthanasia?

When your dog has a terminal disease or is living out the end of a chronic illness, you may decide with your veterinary care team that hospice is the right decision for your dog.

Generally, with hospice care, your dog may only have days, weeks, or a few months left. Dogs that are placed in hospice care can continue to maintain a good quality of life with home modifications and appropriate medications.

If your dog's quality of life is suffering, hospice care may not be the right choice for them. You may need to decide on euthanasia well before you were prepared for it. Electing to say goodbye to your pet is never an easy decision. It is important to work closely with your hospice care or primary care veterinarian to help know when it may be time to say goodbye

Featured image: iStock.com/Pekic


Stephanie Howe, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Stephanie Howe, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Stephanie Howe graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011, after receiving a Bachelor of Science...


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