terminal illness

Hospice Care for Cats

hospice-cats

In the past, euthanasia was often the only option for cats with terminal illnesses. Today, hospice or palliative care is a very real alternative.

Hospice involves providing supportive care to cats in the final stages of their lives so that when the time comes, they can pass naturally and peacefully. The primary goal is to keep the cat comfortable and free of pain, with a focus on quality of life.

Palliative care should not be considered a last resort. It is not about dying, but rather, about finding ways to help the cat live comfortably with a terminal illness.Continue Reading

SoulSessions: Photography At the End of Life

SoulSessions-photography

We live in a culture that doesn’t like to discuss death, let alone look at it, yet pet guardians who ask former zookeeper and Portland-based photographer Kristin Zabawa to take pictures of their dying pets say the photos are critical in helping them process their grief.

For the past five years, Zabawa has been quietly capturing the final moments between guardians and their pets during what she calls “SoulSessions.” Continue Reading

Hospice Care: An Alternative to Premature Euthanasia

hospice-care-cat

With cat guardians understanding the importance of regular preventive care, and with veterinary medicine becoming more and more advanced, cats live longer lives than ever before. However, despite all the advanced treatment options, some illnesses are considered terminal. In the past, euthanasia was often the only option pet owners would consider at that stage. An alternative to premature euthanasia that is garnering more attention in the world of pet care is hospice care.

What is hospice care?

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 an 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.

Hospice care is not about giving up, or even about dying. It may actually involve providing more care for a terminally ill cat than pursuing aggressive medical treatment, 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 focuses on keeping the patient comfortable. This may mean providing additional soft bedding with easy access to food, litter boxes, and favorite sleeping spots. Depending on the cat’s condition, gentle handling may be required because many terminal medical conditions create discomfort and pain.

Pain management, also known as palliative care, is one of the cornerstones of hospice care. Cats are masters at hiding pain, so it is up to the cat’s guardian to watch for even subtle signs of pain, such as hiding or avoiding contact with family members or changes in sleeping position. Work with your cat’s veterinarian to develop an appropriate pain control program for your cat.

Provide easy access to food and water at all times. You may need to experiment with special foods to get an ill cat to eat.

Sick cats may not be able to groom themselves normally. You may have to assist your cat with grooming by gently brushing, and keeping eyes, ears, the area around the mouth and around the rectum and genitalia clean.

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

Hospice care can present logistic and emotional challenges for cats and their guardians, but this can also be a time of peace and increased bonding with your beloved feline companion. Additionally, hospice care allows cat guardians to gently prepare themselves for the impending loss.
Diagnosis of a terminal illness does not have to be the end. Hospice care can provide a compassionate and loving final phase of life for both cat and human.

This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.

A Team Approach to Caring for Cats with Cancer

calico_cat

While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats. According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States along. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.

Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but recent advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases. Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successful treatment. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment options may include sugery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Whether you choose aggressive treatment for your cat’s cancer, or whether you elect to provide palliative care, which focuses on providing quality of life for the ill cat as well as the cat’s caregiver, caring for the feline cancer patient is a team effort that involves the cat’s guardian, her veterinarian and staff, and, if needed, a social worker or bereavement counselor.

I recently had a chance to speak with Conor J. McNeill, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Oncology), an oncolgist at the Hope Center for Advanced Veterinary MedicineContinue Reading

Palliative Care for the Feline Cancer Patient

Buckley_November_2008

While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats. According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States along. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.

Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but recent advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases. Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successful treatment. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment options may include sugery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

How and whether to treat cancer can be a big decision for cat parents, and factors such as the cat’s age, general health status, temperament all come into play. So do finances: cancer therapies can be expensive.

Sometimes, the right answer may be no treatment, and keeping the cat comfortable with good quality of life for as long as possible may be an appropriate choice.Continue Reading

Quality of Life: What Does It Mean for You and Your Cat?

Buckley's Story

Last updated June 2019

Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things someone loving a pet will ever go through. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine is fortunate to be able to legally offer the option of gently ending suffering when there seems to be no hope for recovery. It is a difficult decision to make at best, and it can be nearly impossible for some pet owners. There are so many factors that play into it.

What is quality of life?

The term that is used the most in this context is “quality of life.” But what does that really mean? Are there hard and fast rules as to what constitutes good quality of life? Of course not. Quality of life means something different for every person, and for every animal.

There are some fairly obvious markers. Pain is one of them. No pet owner wants to see a beloved pet suffer. Animals, especially cats, are masters at masking pain, so this can be difficult to detect. Another marker is appetite. For most pet owners, the first indication that something is wrong is usually when a pet stops eating. A third important marker is dignity: Is the pet still able to relieve herself on her own, or does she need assistance with urination and defecation?

But even these three markers are not always helpful when trying to make a decision. Pain can be managed with medication. Some pets stop eating or eat very little but are still happy and are enjoying life. And who is to say that the dog that needs assistance with being carried outside to urinate or the cat who needs help to get into the litter box and needs to be cleaned off afterwards does not appreciate this level of care from his loving human and is otherwise happy and content?

A final gift of love

It is often said that making the decision to euthanize a pet is the final gift of love we can give our animals. I wholeheartedly believe that, but it still does not make the decision process any easier. Love and denial can be intricately linked, and it can sometimes be difficult to separate one from the other.

I’ve had to make this decision with three of my cats: with Feebee in April of 2000, when he was losing his seven-month battle with lymphoma, with Buckley in November of 2008, when her heart disease was complicated by multiple other issues, and much too soon again with Amber in May of 2010 , after she came down to a sudden, unexpected illness, which was, most likely, virulent systemic calici virus.

All three of the decisions were agonizing for me, but I also know that each time, I made the right decision – for my cat, and for me. That’s not to say that it would have been the right decision for someone else, or for someone else’s cat.

Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads.

Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads. It becomes a decision of love, not something to be reasoned out on an analytical and intellectual level.

No easy answer

I think it’s impossible to ever be completely comfortable with the decision to end the life of someone we love so much. We do not want our pets to suffer, and when we are really in tune with our animals, we know when they are ready to make their transition. Any remaining doubt is usually caused by our sadness and grief at the thought of having to go on without their physical presence in our lives. I also believe that sometimes, our animals also love us so much that they often stick around longer than they might want to because they know how much we will miss them when they’re gone.

There is no easy answer for the question of what quality of life means. It’s going to mean something different for each person, and for each cat. And as your cat’s guardian, you’re the only one who can answer it.

Have you had to make this decision for your cat? What does quality of life mean for you and your cat?

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Portions of this post are adapted from Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher.

Related reading:

How to cope with losing a pet

The final farewell: options after your pet dies

Providing Hospice Care for Cats

hospice_care_for_cats

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.