Beyond Nine Lives: Hospice Care Can Support Pets Too

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This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. 

Veterinary care for our feline friends continues to advance and improve allowing us to help our cats live longer with more quality years.

Unfortunately, veterinary medicine still can’t cure everything, especially the effects of time and aging. Feline hospice care has emerged as a way to help give your cat comfort during the end of life allowing you to have more precious time and your cat to remain comfortable.

How can hospice care help your cat?

Just like human medicine, hospice care is a treatment plan designed to provide supportive care to cats that are in the final stage of life whether it’s from progressive disease, cancer or old age. The main goal is to ensure that your cat maintains quality of life as comfortable and as pain free as possible.

When is hospice care advised?

Unfortunately, there usually comes a time in every cat’s life when its veterinarian concludes that further treatment will not improve its condition and that continuing any aggressive procedures might cause unnecessary pain or discomfort. Hospice care is not meant to take the place of euthanasia — there will be a point even in hospice care that euthanasia is the most humane course of action, but for those that euthanasia is not an option, it helps to make your cat’s remaining time as comfortable as possible.

What does hospice care entail?

Pain management: Pain management is the most important element of hospice care. Allowing a sick or elderly cat to suffer is unnecessary with modern veterinary medicine, so your vet will likely prescribe pain medications to ensure your cat is comfortable. Be advised, though, that cats are masters at hiding when they are in discomfort. You may have to look for subtle signs of pain, including hiding, avoiding contact, changes in body language like ears back or squinting eyes and changes in gait and movement.

Comfort: Comfort involves environmental changes in your cat’s living space. Ensuring your cat has clean comfortable bedding, stays warm, and has easy access to food, water, and a litter box is crucial.

Remember, aging felines can be painful and stiff from arthritis so providing a litter box that’s easy to get into and out of is important. Make sure to keep all of your cat’s essentials on the same floor of your house so they do not have to go up and down stairs. Even with the pain medication, your feline friend might have heightened pain sensitivity, so take care to handle it very gently.

Food: As your cat’s body declines, its ability to digest and process food will diminish. So a reduced appetite tends to accompany end-stage illnesses. As a result, you might have to experiment with different types of food until you find one that interests your cat. Try warming wet food to make it extra smelly to attract your cat. Single ingredient baby food like turkey, chicken, or beef can also be mixed in or given separately as a way to increase calories.

The important thing is that your cat eats, so make sure to note each day how much they are eating. Your veterinarian can also help by giving appetite stimulants when needed or even prescribing prescription diets that may help.

Grooming: Your cat may very likely not be able to groom itself properly at this point in its life, so gentle brushing will help it keep its fur clean. Wiping any drainage from the eyes and keeping your cat’s chin clean with a soft, moist cloth are other ways to help. Make sure to keep their rear ends clean as many senior cats are unable to reach the area. Sensitive fragrance free baby wipes are a good option.

Alternative treatments: Some cat parents help their ailing cat manage pain with holistic treatments such as reiki, acupuncture, laser therapy, and even massage. Holistic therapies can complement more conventional treatment plans providing your cat with the best blend of eastern and western medicines.

Remember, alternative treatments are not substitutes for pain medication. If you are interested in these options, please talk to your veterinarian.

Thinking about losing your feline friend can be painful, but it does help to think about your options before your cat is sick or geriatric. As you consider your options, remember that quality of life is what’s important. Try to isolate five different things that your cat loves to do making sure at least two of them are eating and engaging with you. The other things can vary from sleeping on your bed, to greeting you at the door, to watching birds in the window – whatever makes your cat happy.

Once your kitty is in hospice care, it enables you to quantitatively see how your cat is doing each day. You can write on your calendar- today was a 3 out of 5 day or a 2 out of 5 day. When you start having more bad then good days, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian about humane euthanasia, or if euthanasia is not an option for you, a change in medications to ensure your cat is comfortable.

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