As veterinary care for cats is becoming more and more sophisticated and as more cat guardians understand the importance of a lifetime of preventive care, cats live longer lives. But despite all of that, cats still get sick, and when they do, there are often numerous treatment options. However, some illnesses are considered terminal, and in the past, euthanasia was often the only option pet guardians would consider at that stage. An alternative to premature euthanasia that is garnering more attention in the world of pet care is hospice care.
Hospice care is about providing good quality of life
The definition of a terminal illness is an illness for which there is no cure. It is an active, progressive, irreversible illness with a fatal prognosis. Hospice care provides a loving alternative to prolonged suffering and is designed to give supportive care to cats in the final phase of a terminal illness. The goal is to keep the cat comfortable and free of pain, with a focus on quality of life and living each day as fully as possible.
The decision to stop treatment and begin hospice care can be made at any point in the progression of a terminal illness. Decisions may range from choosing to forego aggressive surgery after receiving a cancer diagnosis because of a poor prognosis, discontinuing chemotherapy or radiation because the cat is either not responding or is dealing with side-effects that are rapidly diminishing his quality of life, or discontinuing medications because medicating the cat is difficult or impossible for the cat owner. Rather than opting for euthanasia, cat owners may choose to provide hospice care for their cat.
Hospice care is not about giving up
Hospice care is not a last resort, and is not about giving up, or about dying. It’s about finding ways to live with a terminal illness, and it may actually involve providing more care and not less. The decision to provide hospice care should be made in conjunction with your veterinarian, who will become an integral partner in the process.
What does hospice care involve?
Hospice care involves the following:
- Comfort: Provide clean, soft bedding with easy access to food, litter boxes, favorite sleeping spots and interaction with family members. Handle cats gently because many terminal medical conditions create discomfort and pain.
- Nutrition and Hydration: Provide easy access to food and water. You may need to experiment with special foods to tempt ill cats. In addition to feeding a high quality, grain-free canned or raw (if you cat is immunocompromised, raw food is not recommended) diet, you may need to offer foods such as meat-based baby food (make sure that there is no onion powder in the brand you buy), tuna juice or flakes of tuna spread on top of the cat’s regular food, and slightly warming the food to increase palatability. Make sure the cat always has fresh water available.
- Cleanliness: Sick cats may not be able to groom themselves. Assist your cat with this by gently brushing, and keeping eyes, ears, the area around the mouth and around the rectum and genetalia clean if she can’t do it by herself anymore.
- Pain Management: Cats are good at hiding pain. Watch your cat for signs of pain – subtle signs may involve hiding, avoiding contact with family members, or changes in sleeping positions. Rarely will cats vocalize when they’re in pain. Work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate pain control program for your cat.
- Holistic Therapies: There are many non-invasive, gentle holistic therapies that can provide relief to terminally ill cats. Energy therapies such as Reiki, Healing Touch, Tellington Touch and others are particularly effective.
A time of peace for cat and human
Despite the logistic and emotional challenges hospice care presents for cats and their humans, it can also be a time of great peace and increased bonding with your beloved feline companion. It also allows for a gentle preparation for the impending loss for both cat and human. Diagnosis of a terminal illness does not have to be the end – it can be the beginning of a deepening, peaceful, final phase of life for both cat and human.