Pet hospice and end of life care is one of the big conversations no pet parent ever wants to discuss, but for those of us with a disabled or chronically ill dog or cat, hospice care is a subject we should know. Pet parents should be aware of the resources available in your community because there may come a time when you can’t take care of your treasured pet all by yourself.
I was recently introduced to the concept of pet hospice and end of life care through Pet Sitters International (PSI). It is the leading educational organization for professional pet sitters and pet parents who are in need of a specialized caretaker. Their website has a section that assists you in finding a local PSI certified pet sitter in your area. If you aren’t familiar with this group, I strongly suggest you check them out so you will be ready if the time comes when you need their services.
Shannon Huskins, RVT is a PSI certified professional pet sitter who specializes in animal hospice care and geriatric home care for pets. She is the owner of Paws & Purrs Feline Services in Atlanta, GA. Shannon began her career as a Registered Veterinary Technician, but transitioned to hospice and end of life care when she saw the need in her community. Shannon shared what it means to be a hospice pet sitter in the following interview.
Why there is a need for pet hospice and end of life care treatment.
I know hospice care for people starts when a patient has less than a year to live. Is it the same for pets?
We don’t use the same definition for animals. Many are not actively dying, but need help because of a chronic illness that requires more than typical pet sitting care. Our patients are diabetics who need insulin injections, pets with end stage kidney disease, cancer patients, paralyzed dogs as well as pets who are nearing the end of their life.
One unique aspect about animal hospice care is that we are the support person between the veterinarian and the pet parent. Vets may start a dog or cat on a new protocol or treatment and while they explain it to the owners, many can’t absorb all of the new information. All they hear is the medical jargon and don’t understand the ramification the changes will have on their pet’s illness. Sometimes they don’t understand how to implement these changes in their household. I come into the picture to explain the procedures, counsel owners and help set up the changes their vet has ordered.
How do pet parents find pet sitters that specialize in hospice care?
For the most part veterinarians refer patients to me. They know I can handle their patient’s chronic or terminal illness. When I come to a home, it allows me to be the one who gives your pet the medication it needs or put a needle in their arm to drain fluid or change a dressing. That way, pet parents can keep their role as the loving caretaker.
I am also there to teach owners how to do these procedures on their own.
How often do you visit a patient?
It varies quite a bit. Sometimes I am at a home 2-3 times a day and other times I visit on a monthly basis to administer supplements. For the most part I make daily visits to my patients and back off when the family understands the treatment plan.
What type of services do you provide?
Each patient requires different care, but I do everything from IV therapy, injections, glucose monitoring for diabetic pets, subcutaneous (Sub-Q) treatments for end stage kidney disease, blood pressure checks, administer medication and check to see how medications are working. Many times I’m called to check on an animals vital signs. Pet become too stressed for things like blood pressure readings when they are in a hospital setting so I do it when they are calm in their own home. I can give a veterinarian a truer assessment of a patient that way.
Some of my visits are for life threatening illnesses and other times I am there to demonstrate a procedure or even show a pet parent how to properly give their cat a pill.
Education is a big part of what I do as well. Veterinarians don’t really talk to owners about what signs they can expect to see if their dog or cat has been diagnosed with something like cancer or kidney disease. I talk to them about the prognosis, quality of life and how long their baby may live. I also try to ease their minds about when it is time to make a final decision for their pet.
Tell me about a special patient.
Well first I can tell you about my most unusual patient. I took care of a sick Gecko this summer and he did very well.
All of my patients are special so I’ll tell you about the last pet I took care of. It was a 6-7 year old cat named Thumper who had been recently adopted from an animal shelter and then diagnosed with mammary cancer. The cancer had already metastasized in the lungs. There wasn’t anything we could do to fix the baby so I did a lot of counseling. We talked about adding quality of life for the cat and ending up having a great month keeping her comfortable. The family was okay when Thumper took a turn for worse and passed away.
Having to face the end of our pet’s life is the hardest part of being a pet parent. It’s a process that never gets easier, but with the aid of an animal hospice care professional you don’t have to go through the end on your own. Have you ever turned for help from an end of life expert?
If you find yourself in need of respite care for your handicapped pet, please take time to read this story: How To Find A Pet Sitter For Your Handicapped Dog