Hospice symposium explores multi-faceted approach to end-of-life animal care

Seeking to develop a comprehensive, broad-based approach to the issue, the First International Symposium on Veterinary Hospice Care took place at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine March 28-30.

Sponsored by the Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets and the Assisi International Animal Institute, the symposium—the first of its kind—was billed as bringing together “veterinarians, holistic veterinarians, veterinary technicians and students, clinical practice managers, hospice professionals and volunteers, nursing personnel and medical staff, psychologists, grief counselors, social workers, bereavement facilitators, death educators, veterinary chaplains, pastoral counselors, animal health care workers, shelter and SPCA staff, animal communicators, pet cemetery personnel, pet massage therapists, pet-sitters and the general public” to discuss the professional and emotional aspects of hospice care.

“Although medical and nursing aspects in this kind of care are very important…we all need to have a better understanding—and acceptance—of the idea of death itself so we can provide the best kind of pet hospice care available,” said Kathryn D. Marocchino, PhD, president and founder of the Nikki Hospice Foundation.

“Understanding the dying process and being present with the companion animals up until the moment of death, whether or not that occurs through euthanasia, is paramount to this kind of comfort care.”

Speakers at the conference included Richard Timmins, DVM, and manager of the Program for Veterinary Family Practice at UC-Davis, who noted that the wide variety of fields represented by the attendees lent itself well to a global understanding of the need for veterinary hospice care across the board.

“It was a great success,” said Timmins. “One of its strengths was the diversity of presenters and audience members.  It truly emphasized the fact that pets are members of their human families.”

Using human hospice care as a model, the symposium investigated how veterinary professionals can help guide their clients through the challenges and grief of their dying animals, as well as building a supportive relationship with their clients through palliative comfort.

Highlights of the symposium included:

  • The relevance of human hospice to veterinary hospice care
  • The mobile hospice veterinarian
  • Pharmacological protocols in veterinary hospice care
  • Setting up a veterinary hospice facility
  • The value of holistic medicine in veterinary hospice care
  • The role of pet nutrition in veterinary hospice care
  • Working with grieving and dying companion animals

“[After] learning from individuals who have been testing the waters [with] a true pioneering spirit, I am certain that pet hospice care will become mainstream,” said Amy Shever, Director of 2nd Chance 4 Pets. “I must admit that I have personally never had such a more meaningful conference experience as I did at the Symposium on Veterinary Hospice Care."

Marocchino was thrilled at the success of the symposium.

“Colleagues have been extraordinarily receptive to the idea of a comprehensive look at veterinary hospice care,” Marocchino said, noting that the event was just the beginning of the hospice education process for many of the attendees, who could now take what they learned back to their own professional arenas.

“The wonderful thing about the launching of this discourse is that it represents the beginning of a wider and on-going conversation that must necessarily take place among veterinarians and hospice personnel—both of whom must be involved in the entire process.”

Marocchino is advising anyone interested in veterinary hospice care to take advantage of information and training available from the Nikki Hospice Foundation:

“We would be more than happy to provide half-day or whole-day workshops and training seminars on how best to provide veterinary hospice care, set up a veterinary hospice care program, create a business plan for a facility [and] answer challenging questions,” said Marocchino. “As the first non-profit in the nation advocating home hospice care for terminally ill companion animals, we are well-poised to give advice and assistance in this emerging field.”

Timmins also suggests utilizing the internet for quick, free information such as the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (aah-abv.org); the Association for Veterinary Family Practice (avfp.org); and the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (cvmbs.colostate.edu/ivapm).

Anyone seeking advice, resources, information or further consultation/training in this field should contact The Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets, at 707/557-8595 or email Dr. Marocchino at [email protected].

SOURCES: www.pethospice.org; http://conferences.ucdavis.edu/ISVHC