“Palliative care should not be the last resort ….. or about giving up. It’s about increased quality of life and enhanced coordination of care. It is not about dying. It is about living with cancer. It’s not less care. It’s more care.” -Fred Meyers, MD, University of California, Davis School of Medicine
The concept of hospice care has historically been thought of in connection with people. Hospice care for animals is a wonderful option for pet guardians who want to provide their companions with compassionate end of life care when curative treatment is no longer an option. Since Hospice care for animals is relatively new most pet owners are unfamiliar with the concept.
The important thing for people to realize when considering Hospice care (for people, as well as animals), is that Hospice is not giving up. It is NOT the enemy. Hospice care is a loving GIFT that we have the ability to offer our loved ones during their final days with us, to honor their life and to help improve the quality of the life they have yet to live.
There are some good FAQs answered on The Canine Cancer Resource.
Providing end of life care is difficult. I’m not going to lie. Caring for a cancer patient was hard enough, but when the cancer returned, and we opted not to fight again, I knew it would get much harder.
When I felt a lymph node on July 1st under Niko’s jaw, I knew he was out of remission. There was no way to know where else in the body he may have had the lymphoma, or other deterioration, but I knew we were now on the clock. I had thought about what I would do if he came out of remission for the months prior. Would I try and treat with more chemo or not? I had tentatively decided I would not treat again, and I would simply provide hospice care for him. I wasn’t sure if I would change my mind when the time came.
It was an eerie calm and clarity that I had when I knew we were on the last lap. I knew I did not want to fight. I knew he did not want to fight. Niko had shown some signs of decline in recent weeks. He still loved a good walk, lots of schniffing, pig ears, and greenies (I know – not the healthiest treats!). However, his appetite had declined, he had lost weight, and was often disoriented. No more than a week before he came out of remission, I talked with my husband about Niko’s state. We decided to see what my sister had to say a week later. When you see your baby every day, it’s much harder to see how far they’ve slipped. I knew she would be a better gauge, as she only saw him every 2-4 weeks.
My feelings about his deterioration were confirmed. He had seemed to go down hill. He still had a good quality of life, so it wasn’t ‘time’ yet. I spoke to one of our vets, Dr. Ball, about him being out of remission, and my decision not to fight anymore. Having just lost a dog to cancer a few months earlier, she knew where I was sitting. She asked if I was sure I didn’t want to try any other drugs. My response was that I needed to make decisions for Niko that I could live with. This meant decisions made for HIM, not me. I bought him 8 cancer free months with chemotherapy, with very few bad days. I felt good about that choice. I knew in October 2008, when he was diagnosed, HE was not ready to give in without a fight then.
Things were different now. I knew I could not live with myself if I tried to get him back in remission and only managed to decrease his quality of life, and then lose him. What I wanted for him, was the best possible days I could give for however many he had left. I am happy with this decision to this date. We took him off Lysodren to let his natural cortisol rise. We upped his pain management. I kept him on his GI support supplements. I planned my time to work from home for at least most of every day so I could be with him. We still did all the things he enjoyed, especially walking. All his walks were so bittersweet – knowing he was happy at that moment, but it was one walk closer to the last.
I was in touch with his various vets (holistic and general) several times each week for those 16 days he had out of remission. The staff at Adams Mill and the Holistic staff at South Paws are amazing people. I will never forget the time they gave us and the kindness they showed.
The hospice care was a extremely emotionally draining. I’ve forgotten how difficult it was on many levels, because reflecting back I realized how wonderful a gift it was to my boy. It is the ultimate sacrafice…. letting go of a losing battle, and giving peace and dignity to your loved one. I cried so much, but I also appreciated every second more than I had thought possible. This is not the kind of care everyone could be capable of… but if you love yours, the way I loved my boy, you will endure it, and you will understand the big picture when all is said and done.
Tags: canine hospice care, hospice care for dogs, palliative care for dogs, end of life care for dogs, pawspice, home hospice care for dog, dog dying at home, animal hospice