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End-of-Life Care

End-of-life (EOL) care and decisionmaking embody the critical final stage in a pet’s life and are as important and meaningful as the sum of the clinical care provided for all prior life stages. EOL care should focus on maximizing patient comfort and minimizing suffering while providing a collaborative and supportive partnership with the caregiver client.

Animal versus human hospice care

Animal hospice care has its origins in human hospice philosophy and practice. Human hospice care focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs as they near the end of life and as they die. Human hospice care also assists patients’ families to help them cope with the patient’s circumstances and to provide care and support in the home care setting. Similarly, animal hospice care seeks to maximize comfort and minimize suffering for the patient, and address the needs of the caregiver in preparation for the death of the pet.

Patient considerations

Canine and feline patients who are candidates for hospice or palliative care generally have at least one or a combination of the following conditions:

Client considerations

Loss and grief are universal human experiences. A pet owner’s emotional response to the loss of their pet is often as intense as the grief experienced following the loss of a family member or friend.

Veterinary healthcare team considerations

Because an interdisciplinary team approach can add a valuable dimension to EOL care, the task force recommends that all primary care practices have a dedicated team to implement palliative and hospice care. 

The end-of-life event

Both euthanasia and hospice-supported natural death are medically and ethically acceptable options in veterinary EOL care and animal hospice. Deciding between humane euthanasia and hospicesupported natural death should be the result of a collaborative discussion involving the caregiver and the animal hospice team.

Summary: challenges and opportunities

The overarching goal of EOL care in veterinary medicine is to maximize patient comfort while minimizing suffering, utilizing a collaborative and supportive approach with the caregiver client.

References

2016 AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life Care Guidelines references

2016 AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life Care Guidelines

End-of-life (EOL) care and decisionmaking embody the critical final stage in a pet’s life and are as important and meaningful as the sum of the clinical care provided for all prior life stages.

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