When your cherished companion is nearing their end of life, whether because of advanced age or a terminal illness, deciding when to let go is incredibly difficult. With the aid of palliative and hospice care, you can keep your beloved pet happy and comfortable while you say your good-byes. Read our Q&A guide for the answers to any questions you may have about these end-of-life services.

Question: What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?

Answer: These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are a little different. Hospice is a specialized form of the overall umbrella term of palliative care. Palliative care, also known as supportive care, is appropriate for pets in all disease stages, and can begin with diagnosis. With palliative care, curative medications are part of the treatment plan, whereas with hospice, it is understood there is no cure. Hospice often begins toward the final stages of a terminal illness, with the goal of keeping your pet comfortable until the end, knowing medicine can do nothing more.

Q: When should palliative care be considered for pets?

A: Palliative care can be considered at the moment of diagnosis, and is appropriate for the following:

  • Pets who are undergoing treatment for a curable disease
  • Pets who are living with a chronic disease, such as liver failure, kidney disease, or congestive heart failure
  • Pets with progressive neurologic abnormalities, or degenerative conditions
  • Pets who are terminally ill (e.g., with an incurable cancer)

During palliative care, medication is provided with the hope of prolonging life, but usually has no curative effect on the underlying disease. The goal is to improve the quality of life, for the pet and the family, and can be provided along with the curative treatment. Palliative care can also help alleviate the adverse effects of the curative therapy, such as managing the nausea associated with chemotherapy.

Q: When should hospice be considered for pets?

A: Hospice is usually considered in the final stages of a disease process or advanced age, when nothing more can be done medically. With hospice, it is understood no curative treatment is available, and the goal is to provide a good quality of life for as long as possible. Preventing or minimizing suffering in a pet approaching the end of life can be performed many ways during hospice, including bandage and wound care, incontinence management, nutritional support, pain recognition and treatment, and subcutaneous fluid administration.

Q: How can I determine my pet’s quality of life?

A: Evaluating your pet’s quality of life can be challenging without a guide. To help determine your beloved companion’s health and happiness level, use the HHHHHMM scale to score your pet’s quality of life:

  • Hurt
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Happiness
  • Mobility
  • More good days than bad

The HHHHHMM scale gives you an objective method of determining your pet’s comfort level.

Q: What measures can be taken to improve my pet’s quality of life?

A: Despite your pet facing a terminal illness, you can keep them comfortable and content. Through palliative and hospice care, at Billings Animal Family Hospital, we offer numerous options to improve your pet’s quality of life. Depending on your beloved companion’s condition, we can take the following measures:

  • Environmental changes to improve mobility and comfort, such as adding ramps, carpet runners on slick floors, and orthopedic beds 
  • Routine grooming to prevent matting, and to keep your pet clean after eliminating
  • New toys and puzzle feeders, to encourage mental stimulation
  • One-on-one socialization time, to ensure your pet does not become overwhelmed or exhausted
  • Trials of tasty new foods and treats, to stimulate your pet’s appetite

Q: How will I know when it’s time to let my pet go?

A: Whether you choose to let your pet pass naturally or through humane euthanasia, the choice is never easy, and always deeply personal. As your veterinarian, Billings Animal Family Hospital can only help evaluate your best friend’s quality of life and prognosis. If you choose hospice care for your beloved companion’s remaining time, our team is always here for you to offer support, discuss your pet’s treatment options, and help you through this incredibly difficult time.

Q: Can my pet be euthanized at home?

A: We understand that the last thing you want to do when your pet is feeling ill or painful is to load them up in your car. We believe in the philosophy that humane euthanasia can be a gift to end a beloved pet’s suffering with a terminal illness, allowing them to pass peacefully, without pain. To make this difficult time easier for you and your pet, we offer in-home euthanasia services. Call us to discuss our in-home euthanasia protocol, and our burial and cremation options.

If you’re unsure whether your cherished companion is ready to let go, call us for advice and support. We’re here for your pet and your family during such a heartbreaking time.