We can choose a good end of life for our veterinary patients…

Frank: 13 years old, 10 months after cancer diagnosis. Enjoying warm rocks at cold New Hampshire river.

I have always been interested in end-of-life care for my patients. A good death and a good end to life is the greatest gift that we can give our canine and feline family. Veterinary medicine has the unique ability to provide relief from pain and suffering when there is no hope that meaningful life can continue. And in that space between diagnosis of a terminal condition and the end of life, we can provide our pets with medical and comfort care that will allow them to feel like themselves for as long as possible.
None of this became so real to me as when my dog Frank was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I have helped my other dogs to a dignified and comfortable end over the years, but none of them had the opportunity to live a significant amount of time with their terminal health conditions.
With Frank, it is different. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a diagnosis I don’t frequently see in my patients and a diagnosis that has minimal to no chance of cure. We can only hope to provide patients with a good quality of life for as long as possible. Given that he was diagnosed with a terminal condition at 12 years old, I decided to provide palliative and hospice care to Frank for as long as he was feeling good and living his life the way he had before his diagnosis. The things that make him the dog I have known for the past 12 years are the things that I needed to protect and assess each day and each week to make sure that he is still living a comfortable and meaningful life.
With daily medication to help slow the cancer down and alleviate pain, as well as anti-nausea and gastrointestinal protectant medications, hospice has been an excellent experience for Frank and for our family. There are occasional days when he doesn’t feel well, but the vast majority of his days are similar to the way they were before he was diagnosed with cancer.
By paying close attention to pain management, nausea control, nutrition, anxiety relief, and day-to-day routine, our veterinary patients can have a good life with a terminal condition. Death is inevitable and one of the most important times in any patient’s life, and we, as the human guardians of our pets, have the unique ability to help them to have happy and comfortable final days, weeks, and months. We also have the unique ability to decide that it is time for our furry family to pass. One of the most wonderful things about animals is that they live in the moment and do not think about their tomorrows. Because of this, saying good-bye before our pets begin to suffer does not mean we have cheated them of time or of more living. It means that we are giving them the gift of living every moment they can up until their health condition causes them to suffer.
We don’t know how much time we have left with Frank…in fact, he has lived far longer than I would ever have thought. I am so thankful for the time we have with him, and I am so thankful that he has taught me how good hospice can be for our veterinary patients. Please enjoy this short video of Frank living his life with cancer and a good hospice plan.