Pawspice (pet hospice) care for cancer patients (Proceedings)


Pawspice (pet hospice) care for cancer patients (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2008

When a pet is diagnosed with cancer, the bond that is shared between them and their human caregivers grows stronger. Cancer kills one in four of dogs over the age of two and it kills half of our senior pets. It is time to rethink how the profession will help pet owners face those final days with a terminally ill best friend. Most pet owners have preconceived notions about cancer and its treatment. Obvious biases and ingrained feelings regarding cancer may cause a negative approach towards its treatment in geriatric pets. Case by case, veterinarians and their professional staff must overcome the defeatist attitude about geriatric care and cancer therapy for pets by dispelling negative notions, one by one.

If the pet's cancer can't be treated due to financial constraints or a logistical problem, it is still a matter of good professional service to compassionately provide advice and home care giving instructions in a palliative Pawspice program. If a pet's cancer has recurred, if it is resistant to further treatment, if the pet has anemia or cachexia, or if the pet is in the terminal stages of cancer, in home pet hospice care is a wonderful next step. Pawspice keeps pet and caregiver comfortably close to their nest. A well-conceptualized, creative, palliative pet hospice for pet owners may be the very best care that medicine can offer to support the people pet bond. Veterinarians and their staff can kindly and respectfully help sustain a quality life for the terminal pet during the last days of the people-pet bond.

How Much Care at What Cost?

When a pet is diagnosed with cancer, the pet owner worries about how much care their pet will need and how much it will cost. How much care, devotion and money are pet owners willing to provide for their ailing pet? From this author's personal experience with treating cancer patients in California for 30 years, it can be stated with authority that the answer to this question is very personal and it may have no limits. Each pet owner has unique personal life style and tolerance considerations. After an initial consultation with the primary veterinarian and a thorough consultation with a specialist regarding options for curative treatment or palliation, the owner will struggle with finances, logistics, love, guilt and grief. Then they either accept the challenge to treat their pet's illness or decline therapy. It is crucial that veterinarians refrain from being judgmental at this touchy time. It is kind to continue educating and offering options that may be more palatable for the owner to incorporate into their routine. It is also important to refrain from suggesting or insisting on euthanasia as the next best option if the pet is not treated as initially recommended. Let the pet owner know that pain relief and ways to make the pet more comfortable is available while they are trying to make a decision regarding therapy. Many clients have complained that the initial veterinarian was too quick to recommend euthanasia, or that the veterinarian seemed to insist things be done as an "all or none" method because the pet's prognosis was poor for recovery or it was suffering or its disease was incurable.

Practical and Physical Considerations

Some pet owners feel that they would be unable to handle the thought of giving daily injections of insulin to a diabetic pet or giving a daily injection of fluids under the skin to a pet with failing kidneys. The idea of using a feeding tube for nutrition during recovery from lipidosis, or after an oral surgery or during radiation treatments to the oral cavity may sound like heroics to one person and make perfect sense to another. It is truly important to always speak to the caregiver in a tender, unhurried fashion as that person is most likely under a tremendous amount of personal, financial and emotional stress.

Home care for a cancer patient that has trouble rising or can't walk or eliminate properly is a task certain pet owners have chosen to tackle with the help of special harnesses, Pampers, pet wheel chairs, egg crate mattresses and ramps. Families are willing to set up portable oxygen tanks for their pets with compromised respiration. Some people react with fear of medical procedures and needles. Others have great interest in learning how to administer to their pets for convenience and needed financial savings. The most important ingredient to look for in oneself, in the staff and in the pet owner is willingness.