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Norwich Bulletin - 9/12/2004

Hospice - Saying Goodbye At Home

Nothing is certain in life. We lost our beloved Abyssinian Honey at a time she should have just been entering her mature adulthood. None of us expected kidney failure to claim our three year old cat. I have friends who adopted two kittens from a "free" kitten ad and ended up losing both of them to Feline Leukemia before they were a year old.

And so I feel that everyone needs to consider options of care for their cats from the time they are young. What will you do if a terminal illness strikes your cat, whether it is young or old?

One of these options is actually a hospice type setting, much like terminally ill cancer patients often opt for. Just like people, animals would prefer to spend their last days in a safe and familiar home setting with the humans they love, rather than die alone in a vet's office, being treated by strangers, even if they are kind strangers.

This does not mean I am suggesting to continue stressful treatments that cannot succeed, but rather to be able to keep your pet until they are ready to pass, rather than opt for early euthanasia. I firmly believe that we are attuned to our pets enough to know when to let them go. It is a fine line, but by keeping them with us at home, we can pretty much figure out when it is time to say goodbye.

Many veterinarians are accepting the home care philosophy for their older or ill cat (and dog) patients. If the animal is able to spend their last months, weeks or days within the family without too much stress or discomfort - your pet would probably choose that option if he was able, just like most of us would.

As sad a time as this is, it can also be a very meaningful time for all members of the family. It allows the adults to give the gift of a safe, comfortable death to a family member and it teaches children about the normal stages of life. After all, death is inevitable for us all, although most of us would like to think our animals will live as long we do.

Cats are especially good candidates for home hospice care when they are leaving this earth. Most cats hate leaving their home when they are healthy so imagine their feelings when they have a life threatening disease. They really don't want to go anywhere else but be in the comfort of the home they have known all their lives.

Not every home can provide the special attention needed, depending on the disease. If everyone works and is gone twelve hours a day, and the cat needs medication every six hours to keep it comfortable, it may not be a workable situation.

But I maintain that there are others who would be willing to help and if you needed to go a little out of your way to keep your pet at home, wouldn't it be worth it? If you have a pet whose disease cannot be cured, what good is it doing the pet to be receiving useless "curative" treatment at a vet - away from you and everything it loves when there is no cure?

And yet, it has been found that when your pet is in its own surroundings, receiving active total care (pain relief, fluids, nutritional support, antibiotics, etc) by their human, the animals tend to rally and stay on this earth longer. And so even though we will lose our pet in the end, quality time can still be had.

You need a vet who is sympathetic to the whole idea of hospice as you will need supplies, a little training and support. There are also mobile vets who will work with you and when the time does come where a tough decision has to be made, the vet will come to your home and let your pet breath its last in its own home.

In many cases you pet will not peacefully die in its sleep and if health and quality of life start to seriously decline, you will have to make the decision none of us like to make. Since you know your pet the best, your heart will know when it is time. We were able to keep Honey with us until the end when a serious stroke forced us to make that decision to let her go.

Good candidates for home hospice care can be leukemia, FIV, FIP, chronic conditions such as liver or kidney failure and some cancers. Working with your veterinarian and having and honest relationship with your vet, you will be able to ascertain if you can handle the home hospice type environment.

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