Loading... Please Wait

AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life Care Guidelines offer options for pet owners with terminally ill pets

Sabina Jennings had a special relationship with her cat, Gemma.

“I adopted her in 2004. The shelter said she was about a year old. I saw her markings and took her out, and she was friendly and responded to touch, and I knew she was the one,” she said.

Jennings had just moved into her first apartment and was ready for a feline companion. That companionship lasted more than 12 years, until Gemma, who Jennings refers to as her “first born,” passed away in October 2016.

“She left a big hole in my heart. She was there through so many difficult times in my life. She had a sixth sense and knew to be with me when I was breaking down,” Jennings said.

The bond between Jennings and Gemma wasn’t unlike the bond many pet owners share with their pets. And, as the human-animal bond grows stronger, more pet owners are looking for ways to make it last as long as possible.

That’s why the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) teamed up with the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) to create the AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life Care Guidelines.

Heather Loenser, DVM, AAHA’s veterinary advisor for professional and public affairs, said these new guidelines will provide another option—hospice-supported natural death—for pet owners whose pets have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses.

“Previously, I was content with my role to diagnose and treat the complicated or terminal illness, let time pass and when appropriate, put the pet to sleep in a peaceful manner,” Loenser said. “These guidelines have shown me how I can bridge the gap between the time of diagnosis of a terminal illness and when the animal passes away. Since this time can extend to be days, weeks, or even months, this gives the veterinary team multiple opportunities to provide invaluable care to the pet and pet owner, allowing the pet’s final time beside the owner to be as comfortable as possible.”

The guidelines, developed by a task force of veterinary experts, aim to provide veterinary health care teams with the tools necessary to best guide pet owners and their pets through end-of-life care and decision-making. Offering hospice care as an alternative to euthanasia, the guidelines state, “Animal hospice care seeks to maximize patient comfort while minimizing suffering utilizing a collaborative and supportive approach with the caregiver.”

The guidelines also introduce the Animal Hospice Care Pyramid, which illustrates the importance of physical, social, and emotional health when aiming to achieve an optimal quality of life.

At the base of the pyramid is physical health, which includes safety, mobility, hygiene, and pain management. Social health—engagement with other pets and family members—is in the middle of the pyramid, and at the top is emotional health, which covers the animal’s happiness and will to live.

Loenser said it is important for pet owners to know they have options when the end is near for their pets.

“Aside from euthanasia, you and your veterinarian can consider palliative care and hospice-supported natural death,” she said. “It is important to note that palliative care is different than letting your animal languish in the corner of a room until they pass away. There are multiple key components to alleviating suffering during this time. Partnering with a veterinary team who knows how to keep your animal comfortable by providing house calls, educating you on how to identify and manage signs of suffering, and giving you options on how to allow your pet to die are critically important. Some pet owners are also opting for hospice-supported natural death, which entails treating all signs of discomfort under veterinary supervision until the natural, unassisted death of the pet.”

However, Loenser reiterated that hospice and palliative care must be done under the supervision of a veterinarian. “This does not give pet owners the permission to just declare their pets in hospice and not allow them the veterinary care they need in order to have a peaceful time as they pass away from their terminal illness,” she said.

Loenser said the new guidelines will help the veterinary team leave the pet owner with positive memories of their pet.

Jennings said that after about a year of weight loss, her veterinarian thought Gemma was suffering from kidney failure. Jennings ultimately opted to have her euthanized.

“If [my veterinarian] had given me the option, I would have chosen to make her comfortable for the rest of her time with me,” she said.

Sarah Rumple is a freelance writer and editor living in Denver, Colorado. 

American Animal Hospital Association | Copyright © 2019 | Terms of Use
View Full Site