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Your pet has a special place in your heart, and a cancer diagnosis may feel devastating and shocking. As you navigate the next steps for your pet, we know how important it is to you to make sure they’re as happy, comfortable, and pain-free as possible.

That’s where palliative care comes in. For pets with cancer, palliative care is the key to creating more good days than bad and allowing you to create cherished memories with your pet throughout their cancer journey.

What is Pet Palliative Care?

Palliative care is the management of all your pet’s symptoms to promote quality of life. The goal is to keep your pet comfortable so they can do more of the things they love to do with you and your family.

As you’re planning the next steps for your pet with cancer, you may hear several terms that relate to palliative care like “hospice care” or “pain management.” We hope the information below will help you feel informed and empowered to make decisions that are best for your pet.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is an umbrella term that encompasses the management of all types of symptoms, including pain, anxiety, decreased activity, loss of appetite, stomach upset, and any other complications caused by disease, injury, or aging. It focuses on supporting your pet’s entire wellbeing and relieving all symptoms that may be limiting quality of life.

While palliative care is commonly associated with the later years of your pet’s life, you can elect palliative care at any point when they are experiencing illness or injury.

Pain Management

Pain is a common symptom of age-related ailments and many diseases, including cancer. Pain management aims to pinpoint your pet’s discomfort and find a resolution like medication, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and more.

Pain management will likely play a role in your pet’s palliative care plan. However, it’s important to be mindful of how your pet expresses pain, as it can often be disguised in behaviors like a change in eating or decreased activity. We’ll come back to this topic further in the article.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is typically prescribed for your pet’s final chapter if their condition is considered terminal or incurable. It offers the end-of-life care your pet needs to prepare for a more peaceful and comfortable transition across the rainbow bridge.

With a cancer diagnosis, it’s a good idea to explore hospice care as soon as possible. Whether your pet is in the care of a hospice veterinarian for weeks, months or years, they’ll benefit from having a support plan that’s both personalized to their unique needs and aligned with your family’s wishes.

Hospice Care for Pets with Cancer

Cancer is a complex condition, and it often involves many challenging symptoms. Depending on what type of cancer your pet has, symptoms may be wide-ranging and include:

  • Pain and/or lack of mobility
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Difficulty eating or breathing
  • Discomfort from lumps, wounds or surgeries
  • Diarrhea and digestive upset
  • Anxiety or fear

Hospice care provides valuable support for pets with cancer because it takes your pet’s overall wellness into consideration. Your pet’s hospice care team will take the time to understand your pet’s condition and challenges and create a plan that’s tailored to their individual needs.

dogs resting on a sofa

Benefits of Hospice Care

The benefits of hospice care for cats and dogs with cancer extend to your entire family. When your pet’s symptoms are managed, you’re able to:

  • Create more positive memories with your pet and their loved ones
  • Feel confident they have a better quality of life while living with cancer
  • Take action on your pet’s “bucket list” in their final chapters

You can take comfort in knowing hospice care is a less-stress experience that is often managed at home, so your pet doesn’t experience any additional burden or anxiety during their cancer care journey.

How to Decide: Is Hospice Care the Right Choice for My Pet?

We understand it’s never easy to make decisions about what’s next for your pet when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. It’s important to center your decision-making efforts around quality of life, so they can live the rest of their life with a sense of happiness and comfort.

To feel more confident about your decisions, ask yourself questions like:

“How can I help my pet have more good days than bad days?”
“What is my pet’s prognosis based on the type and stage of their cancer?”
“How does my pet measure with a quality-of-life tool like the BEAP scale?”

Remember what we said above about how sometimes pain is hidden in other behavior changes? You can refer to the BEAP pain scale in this article to help you discover more about your pet’s current quality of life, and how to recognize pain as their disease progresses. And, remember, nearly every pet diagnosed with cancer can benefit from palliative care.

You Are Not Alone

Each cancer journey is unique and there are many decisions to make along the way. You know your pet best, and ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what would make them the most happy and comfortable based on their individual experience.

If you feel you could benefit from extra support during this difficult time, please know we’re here for you. We invite you to join our Pet Hospice Facebook Group, with a welcoming community of pet lovers, ready to provide support and share their stories with you. You can also make a reservation with our virtual quality of life consultation team to understand your pet’s quality of life and determine if hospice care may be the right choice for your treasured furry friend.