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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pet behavior professionals can enhance a companion animal's hospice care

Pet hospice is an area of veterinary medicine that is emerging, and for good reason. Our pets are living longer and healthier lives, and when terminal illness and the like rear their head in twilight or even in the prime of life, addressing a pet's comfort and quality-of-life is key. That goes for the family and caregivers in their life, too. That's the work that hospice vets and professionals who are a part of the periphery, but very involved with the day-to-day happenings—such as pet sitters and dog walkers, like myself—strive for. 

It's not uncommon for a family to reach out for some extra help during times like this; work and familial responsibilities don't stop because a pet's needs necessitate palliative and hospice care. Often, experienced caregivers like me fill that void to keep medication doses on track, see that potty breaks and comforts are seen to as well as offering a fresh, clear perspective on how things might be going. Respite for the family members, not to mention a 'hey, how are you feeling? How are you handling things? Any concerns?' is as vital as any care that the pet receives, I assure you. I've been there, and not so long ago.

We can also give insight into options for less stressful ways of medicating pets, including compounded medications and fear-free approaches.

You might be surprised that other professionals, like accredited positive reinforcement dog trainers, animal behaviorists and veterinary behaviorists, can be an integral part of the equation, too. 

'How can that be?', you might be wondering.

In my experience, yes, there's a lot of focus on the pet's health and physical well-being, and their mobility, and their safety—of course. But one core thing that I always ask a family is (and hopefully all of the humans important to the pet are present during that initial consultation) 'So what do they like to do? What's fun to them?? What brings them joy???' 

Usually, when that is unpacked, faces light up. Tensions are released. Voices speak up readily. That familiar joy emerges. 

Ah, yes... it's important to remember that simply because a pet is in a time of life that looks very different than when they were less fragile, they still crave joy and enrichment. They very much do. And the humans need it as much as the pets do. I will admit that often, I'm able to help unearth that part of sharing life with a pet that often gets buried easily. Toys, modified-versions of games that suit a pet's changing needs, thinking outside the box when it comes to what's fun. 

But other times, situations are outside my realm of training or expertise. Maybe there are some cognitive issues that even the hospice or regular vet isn't as in tune to. That's where an experienced and qualified trainer (or, in some cases, a veterinary behaviorist) can really untangle things and come up with solutions to a challenging situation, for example, helping to counter-condition and desensitize a pet to experiences that they troublesome. 

It's not that uncommon these days for companion animals to be part of a multiple-pet household. Let's think about how challenging that could be: each pet has their place in the hierarchy, then an illness or age-related decline shakes things up. I've had households where a cat being treated (reluctantly, at first) feeds some apprehensive vibes to the other cats in the tribe. Those other cats can at times pick up and transfer any tension to humans in the house, or sometimes, other pets, causing physical harm. Does the order of things change with dogs? Certainly, and situations can be complicated. In many cases, a protective tenderness emerges amongst the non-human members of the family. This isn't always the case, though, and the pet needing that extra care can get picked on by one or more of the group. A qualified professional can help sort things out and restore a sense of balance to the household. 

As much as its important with us humans to address emotional well-being when facing profound health changes, it's important not to underestimate the value of bolstering our companion animal's needs just the same. Having the insight of a professional can make a lasting difference for each member of the family. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and writing about her experiences. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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