Serving Nebraska and Iowa

When your pet is suffering from a terminal condition, palliative care can provide extra comfort and support that can enhance and extend their days.

Palliative care for pets: The explanation

Palliative care for pets bridges the gap between normal life and hospice care by anticipating and addressing negative effects on your pet’s quality of life. Palliative care aims to decrease not only physical suffering, but also the mental and emotional stress that often accompanies illness.

Unlike hospice care, which usually is performed when all available treatments fail or your pet’s suffering is deemed too great, palliative care can be added to a sick pet’s health regimen at any time to provide additional support and comfort. Because palliative care includes more holistic interventions, some owners with terminal pets prefer them over traditional medications and treatments, and report benefits not seen with Western medicine.

Palliative care for pets: The choice

The same sacred, highly individual bond between pet and owner is the motivation for considering palliative and end-of-life care. And, although you may have different reasons, many pet parents embrace palliative care for its benefits, which include:

  • Added pain relief — When medications no longer manage pain, non-pharmaceutical therapies can provide targeted relief without drug-induced side effects.
  • Convenience — Many palliative care treatments can be performed at home, which benefits large or handicapped pets or those with veterinary-related stress.
  • Holistic approach — Palliative care options often address the entire body rather than only the diseased or painful area.
  • Less invasive — Palliative care doesn’t require anesthesia, surgery, or complicated treatment plans, and rarely involves needles or traditional medical equipment.
  • Low stress therapies — Many pets visibly relax during palliative care treatments.
  • More time with the owner or family — These therapies don’t require hospitalization or separation of the pet from their owners.

Palliative care for pets: Options for the terminally ill

Although Nebraska Pet Hospice does not currently provide palliative care services, some therapies may be available through your pet’s primary veterinarian. If you cannot locate a palliative care provider for the services listed below, contact our team. We would be happy to help you find a caring and qualified professional in your area.

Palliative care encompasses a wide variety of therapies from minimalist to intensive, but all share the same goal of improving quality of life. Many therapies can be combined for a synergistic effect. Your primary veterinarian can work with you to design for your pet a palliative care plan that may include:

  • Pain medication — Your primary veterinarian can adjust your pet’s dosing or try new medications that may provide more comprehensive relief. However, the benefits must be carefully balanced with the possible side effects, such as personality changes or mental dullness.
  • At-home nursing — Many veterinary therapies that can be performed at home are less effective (e.g., administering fluids under the skin versus directly into a vein), but also less stressful. If you are interested in caring for your pet, your primary veterinarian can teach you basic tasks, such as fluid administration, injections, hygienic care, and manual therapies.
  • Massage — Massage can soothe away pain, ease muscle tension, improve circulation, and enhance physical and emotional wellness. Massage can also benefit pets with chronic arthritis and neurologic dysfunction.
  • Chiropractic care — Chiropractic adjustment involves correcting mobility restrictions in the body and can alleviate muscle pain and tension. Chiropractic treatment should be performed only by a licensed chiropractor certified in animal chiropractic.
  • Rehabilitation — Similar to physical therapy for humans, rehabilitation for pets can improve healing, increase functional mobility, and relieve pain and inflammation. Palliative rehabilitation prioritizes the pet’s comfort and preserving their current mobility with gentle exercises, manual therapies, and more.
  • Heat and cold application — Applying gentle heat or cold packs to painful or stiff areas provides aching pets with low-cost relief. However, thermotherapy can alter circulation and incorrect use can damage tissue, so consult your primary veterinarian before using cold packs or heat on your pet.
  • Acupuncture — Acupuncture is a gentle therapy that most pets tolerate well—in fact, many fall asleep during treatment. Acupuncture needles are placed at key body points where nerves and vessels intersect. Stimulating these areas can increase circulation, disrupt pain signals, release trigger points, and prompt the release of mood-enhancing endorphins. Acupuncture can be beneficial for many terminal conditions, including cancer, degenerative neurologic conditions, and kidney or liver failure.
  • Laser therapy — Laser therapy (i.e., photobiomodulation or “cold” laser) is an effective non-invasive modality that uses a specific wavelength of light to accelerate cellular processes and decrease pain and inflammation, increase blood flow, and improve mobility. Laser therapy units in veterinary clinics are typically more powerful and thereby more effective than small in-home laser therapy units or light therapy pads, although they can help pets who cannot be transported for treatment. Laser therapy is generally safe but, as with any therapy, consult your veterinarian before initiating treatment.

Caring for a pet with a terminal condition can be an emotional and physical challenge, and you may feel helpless about meeting your pet’s needs. Fortunately, although you cannot change your pet’s prognosis, you can provide palliative care and help ensure their remaining days are as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Do you need help determining your pet’s quality of life? Nebraska Pet Hospice is a mobile veterinary service that provides comfort, compassion, and dignity for pets through in-home quality-of-life consultations and end-of-life care. Contact our team to schedule an appointment.