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More and more medical items that once were the preserve of humans are being offered to our canine companions. Some - laparoscopic and orthopedic surgeries - are unarguably good while others - diet and doggy Prozac pills - are easily argued.
Hospice is one of those that's growing rapidly across the country. I'm going to take an unsentimental look at this concept because so many other media won't.
What is it
Unlike the typical human version, canine hospice takes place in the dog's/your home rather than a special facility.
If your dog has a terminal illness or is a senior in an advanced state of decline, owners may opt for an extended good-bye through hospice in the familiar comfort of the dog's own home.
Some hospice programs restrict 'patients' to within six to three months of their expected death. Most will want a referral from a veterinarian if your own vet doesn't offer an hospice option.
How does it work
The hospice staff will develop a plan to treat your dog's pain and provide comfort both to him and to family members.
You, or other family members, will be taught how to administer pain medication, change bandages, provide certain types of therapy and perform general care. You will be expected to monitor your dog and assess if your dog has reached the point where euthanasia is the best option.
Most hospices will want someone available with the dog on a 24/7 basis. You should only use a hospice that offers 24/7 staffing in case your dog has seizures or his pain becomes uncontrollable.
Before choosing hospice, you need to be certain your work and family schedules allow this level of commitment, both in time and in emotional energy.
How much does it cost
Of course, that varies across the country. Typical initial visit where the care plan is developed is about $250. Subsequent visits from the vet or vet technician to your home are about $150 with additional fees for nights, weekends or holidays.
Medication and medical devices or therapy are additional costs.
How does this differ from the 'old days'
There are few communities that haven't had at least one vet who would make a house call to euthanize a terminal or elderly dog.
Owners want to think our dog will die peacefully in his sleep. Veterinarians tell us that an overwhelming majority of dogs are euthanized or die of traumatic injury or disease.
What's new is that hospice provides a prolonged total package, including support for the family, at much higher cost than having one final visit from the vet. After your dog's death, bereavement counselors will be available to help family members.
What's wrong with hospice?
I'm wary of any product or service that's being sold to people undergoing great stress. Any owner is going to be depressed, anxious, fearful and grief stricken when his dog has a grave illness or is obviously reaching the final stage of his life.
Is such an owner capable of making an unemotional decision to spend $1,000 or more to prolong his dog's life? Especially if somone is telling him that this is the best way to provide a painless final stage for the dog in the comfort of the dog's own home?
Is hospice always in the dog's best interest?
My main concern is that a dog's life may be prolonged for the sake of the owner rather than the best interest's of the dog.
Remember, your dog has no religious conception of Heaven or Hell and does not fear death the way humans do. What he does know is that he's in excruciating pain.
Is it fair to make your dog suffer because you can't bear to part with him? In the worst case, hospice is a way to profit from this normal human fear at the expense of the dog.
my article on How to Tell If Your Dog's in Pain at
You're not a bad pet parent if you decide hospice care is either unaffordable or undesirable.
On the other hand, if you've been honest with yourself and are convinced your dog can be comforted and live painlessly for a longer period time using hospice care and you can afford it, then go for it.
My best wishes to all of you.