BELTON — When a cherished pet reaches the end of its life through injury, illness or aging, an owner can face a series of heart-wrenching decisions.
Although treatment to prolong the pet’s life may be available, the benefits may not outweigh the physical and psychological trauma the treatment causes the animal and the financial impact it can have on the family.
But another option is now available to pet owners — hospice care, which shifts the focus from prolonging the pet’s life to maintaining quality of life for as long as possible in the comfort of home.
Belton veterinarian David Foster provides hospice care for pets.
“Being able to see a pet at home allows them to be treated in a place that is familiar and safe,” he said. “When a pet is sick or dying, minimizing any further stress in their lives helps them to more fully enjoy the time they have left.”
Hospice care has become an important part of Foster’s mobile practice, Personal Veterinary Care, since he started in 2009. He offers a full range of veterinary services by bringing the clinic to the client’s home.
For procedures best handled in a hospital setting, Foster partners with local veterinarians and provides pet transportation to and from the hospital. He also partners with Paws in Paradise pet crematorium, providing home euthanasia and cremation services.
Foster’s mobile practice is especially useful for clients living in rural areas or facing transportation challenges. Mary Crude, 81, of Holland, and her dog Lassie are some of his clients. She doesn’t drive much anymore.
“That was the number one reason for calling (Foster),” Crude said. “My dog is old and has arthritis, so it’s hard for me to get her in the car.”
One of the most important aspects of providing home hospice care is educating and assisting owners on how to help their animals, Foster said.
“It is essential that owners have a good understanding of how animals die. Many animals, when they are sick and dying, withdraw from their families. Oftentimes, they don’t want to be touched or to interact.”
This withdrawal can be painful for pet owners who want to spend every last moment with their cherished friends. Understanding that their pets are not rejecting them but behaving naturally helps owners continue providing patient support, Foster said.
Caring for a sick and dying pet at home can be a substantial undertaking. The owner may need to give medications to manage pain or stimulate appetite, sometimes through injections, or administer sub-cutaneous fluids.
“When I visit a home for the first time, the first thing I do is assess both the animal’s condition and what the home health management will look like,” Foster said. “I can also coordinate with the family’s regular veterinarian, serving as the home-based component of the pet’s overall treatment team.”
By continuously monitoring the pet’s condition, Foster can also provide owners with the best possible information about the painful choice of euthanasia, which can be done at home.
Not all pets are good candidates for home hospice care and not all pet owners can provide the high level of care that home hospice requires.
“Their owners must be able to manage the demands of home care, which can include preparing special diets, helping their pet to move and use the restroom, and cleaning the animal and its space when accidents happen,” Foster said. “Caring for a dying animal can be a demanding, around-the-clock commitment, both physically and emotionally. Helping the pet owner have realistic expectations of the dying process is one of the most important things I do.”
For more information about home hospice care for pets, call Foster at (254) 228-3960 or go to www.animalhospice.org.