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Until the Last Good Day: The Gift of Palliative Care

“It’s bad news, I’m afraid”, the veterinarian said as he compassionately explained the unfortunate diagnosis to the pet parent on the other end of the phone. “We now call this palliative care.”

Palliative care. End of life. As humans, we prefer to spend our lives outrunning these concepts. We hope we’ll go 80, 90, maybe 100 years before the sand in the hourglass catches up with us and forces us to consider our final bow.

It’s a cruel trick of nature that the timelines of a human’s life and that of their furry family members were not designed with symmetry in mind. As a representative for a Pet Crematorium recently said to me, “This line of work forces you to confront your own mortality.”

It’s true. Our mismatched timelines force us to make end-of-life decisions when we are very much not end-of-life ourselves. Perhaps you have already found yourself in this position with a human loved one. If so, the process is much the same with a furry family member.

Palliative care is a philosophy that relinquishes the pursuit of curative treatment. We all want more time with our loved one, but in palliative care, the focus is often less on the number of days than it is the number of good days.

For our furry family members, many of life’s pleasures that constitute a “good day” are very much linked to their bodily systems. As their mobility, appetite, social ability, hygiene and breathing decline, their ability to enjoy walks, treats and companionship also diminishes. Of course, in veterinary medicine, there is also the option of compassionate euthanasia when considering quality of life. One of the sayings most dear to my heart regarding euthanasia is, “We choose to carry the pain ourselves so that they no longer have to.”

In this way, palliative care can truly be a gift. When the focus shifts to enjoying the time that’s left, it might mean controlling pain enough to have a few more good days at the park, or stimulating appetite enough for the Big Mac of their dreams. Dogs and cats live in the moment, so highlights such as these can be some of the most meaningful times we share with them.

When it comes to living and loving unconditionally, we need look no further than to the animals with whom we share our lives. While the palliative care of a furry family member can certainly raise uncomfortable questions about our own morality, it can also teach us how to live.


Dr. I. Wonder is here to answer your questions regarding your furry family members. If you have a question, email it to us at danielle@NeighbourhoodPetClinic.com. Our team at Neighbourhood Pet Clinic will tap into their collective experience to answer your various questions.


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