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Palliative Care for Dogs

When your best friend is nearing the end of their life, you want to do everything you can to keep them comfortable. This time can be so difficult, and we feel your pain. We know you want to honor the role your dog has played in your life and improve the quality of their last days with you. In addition to all the love you'll be giving your dog, we hope this information will help them feel the best they can.

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It's OK to Share Your Feelings With Your Dog

old-dog-lying-down

Knowing your dog is nearing the end of their life is an emotional time, and often we find ourselves grieving before our dog is actually gone. It’s okay to be sad, angry, or feel lost, but try to avoid completely detaching yourself from the situation in your grief.

Share your sadness with your dog, nestle your nose in their fur and let them lick away your tears, but allow yourself to still experience all the moments of joy they bring you during their remaining time with you.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is sometimes called hospice care or end of life care. It’s the care and medication options we can provide for dogs with conditions that we can’t cure or treat. Palliative care almost always includes pain management medications, but can also include:

  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Therapeutic laser treatment
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutraceuticals (also known as supplements)

While it’s often heartbreaking to think about our dog’s illness or advanced age, palliative care gives you options to keep your pet comfortable in their final days.

Why Is Palliative Care Needed?

Often, palliative care is provided for:

  • Dogs with terminal conditions like cancer
  • Dogs with advanced diseases that impact their mobility or other normal functions, like end-stage arthritis
  • Dogs where disease or trauma treatment is not an option for their family
  • Dogs who are old, frail, or have conditions like canine cognitive dysfunction (dementia-like), but don't have any major disease or conditions that aren't under control
  • When you aren't able to say "goodbye" just yet, or your dog is still experiencing many good days, but you want to help them with the "not so good" days.

What You Should Do If Your Dog Has Been Prescribed Palliative Care

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions on giving medication (if prescribed), diet, environment changes, and activity level. It’s important to talk to your veterinarian and your family about your dog’s disease, how it's expected to progress, and the best ways to assess your dog’s quality of life.

You may find it helpful to keep track of your dog’s activity, appetite, and overall comfort each day so that you can quickly notice if their condition, mood, or quality of life is declining.

If your pet is taking multiple medications, a pill dispenser can come in handy. Be sure to keep it out of reach of your pup and any children in your home. 


Keep Your Dog Comfortable

Because your dog doesn’t feel well, you may want to provide them a quieter, safer area of your home (away from small children and other pets). And if you have small children at home, communicate with them that their "pup" isn't able to play the same as they used to, and to give them their space and peace and quiet. Ensure their spot is a comfortable place with their favorite bed, and their food and water close by – avoid making them go up and down stairs if you can. You may even want to provide a disposable potty pad on the floor in case of an accident (but not if they’re the kind of dog who would try to chew on it or eat it!).

Be sure to clean their food and water bowls to remove any lingering smells, gunk, or bacteria. You’ll likely need to take your dog out to the bathroom more frequently, so budget in some more potty breaks to help avoid any urgent accidents.

Of course, one of the best things you can give your dog during this time is your love and attention. Dogs have a keen sense of how their human is feeling. They won’t understand why you might seem more distant than usual because dogs live in the moment. You shouldn't make their lives about being sick, because they aren't making their lives about being sick. Carry on with play, enrichment, and new things just like you would if they were well. Have gentle play sessions if your dog has the energy for it. Provide physical touch, such as gentle petting or massage if your dog enjoys these. Talk to your dog and be present in the moment with them.

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How Do You Know Things Are Under Control?

Your dog should be more comfortable within a few days of starting palliative care, particularly for pain management. While it can be common for dogs to be more sleepy when on pain medications, this can be a temporary adjustment period. Your dog should be eating, drinking, going to the bathroom normally, and more receptive to petting and attention. They may be able to move with greater mobility, particularly after the first several days.

How Do You Know When Things Are Getting Worse? What You Should Do.

If your dog is not eating or drinking, having difficulty standing, not able to use the bathroom, or if they are vomiting or having diarrhea, reach out to your veterinarian to see if there are medication adjustments that can be made.

Unfortunately, eventually, all palliative care options are not enough. You and your family may need to make some decisions about your dog’s quality of life and ending their suffering with humane euthanasia. If you haven’t had to make this decision before, ask your veterinarian to explain the process and discuss the options available so that you can be prepared when the time comes.

Read more – Knowing When It's Time and What to Expect

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