What Makes a Palliative Pet?

14 Dec

What makes a palliative pet? Primarily personality and physical attributes. Not every dog or cat can become a palliative pet. Just as you would not ask an old Pekinese to herd cattle in the Australian outback nor should you expect a young Border Collie to engage in palliative care. There are exceptions to the rule of course but on the whole, personality is greatly influenced by breed and a palliative pet must have a specific personality type. Let’s look at what services a palliative pet provides to help clarify an animal’s suitability for the role.

Palliative care is an approach to health care and delivery of medical services for people who are living with a life-threatening illness. The focus of care is on achieving comfort and ensuring respect for the person nearing death and maximizing quality of life for the patient, family and loved ones. Palliative care does not seek to cure, instead the intent is to manage pain and other symptoms, provide social, psychological, cultural, emotional, spiritual and practical support. Further, the role is to support caregivers and provide support for bereavement.

In a private setting or hospital or hospice, the environment is generally calm, quiet and temperate. Persons nearing the end of life do not engage positively for any length of time with high energy hyperactive people or animals. In my experience, a palliative pet must be calm by nature, enjoy the company of people without exhibiting excessive vocalizations or physical reactions. How would I define excessive? A simple greeting should not include barking, whining, pawing, scratching, jumping up, mouthing, nipping or licking. While engaging with a patient, the animal should be calm, submissive and willingly accommodate petting and stroking.  The animal should not negatively react to gentle stroking or touching any part of its body.  Small dogs and cats often find themselves invited to join the patient on the bed and should be comfortable with that. In such a situation, it is not unusual for a palliative pet and the patient to fall asleep together.

A patient’s day is often unmarked by change and a visit from a palliative pet is often a well anticipated highlight. The pet visit provides an opportunity for the patient to engage socially, emotionally and often precipitates enjoyable discussions of childhood memories and life experiences with animals.

So a palliative pet should be healthy, safe, and not pose any type of risk to the people being visited.  They must be the appropriate size and age while possessing an appropriate attitude and aptitude for quiet interaction.  A palliative pet requires well developed interactive skills that positively engage their end of life clients.

As a pet owner, you may have tremendous confidence that your animal meets these behavioural criteria, yet in a hospital or hospice situation more may be asked of you.  It is often expected that an independent agency such as a veterinarian, the SPCA or a group dedicated to companion or service animals such as Pets and Friends or the Delta Society evaluate your animal for suitability.  Not only does this ensure the suitablility of your pet for the job in also ensures that liability insurance issues can be dealt with appropriately.  You should also be expected to provide documented evidence that your animal has received its full complement of vaccinations and that it is free of transmissible disease.

Please feel free to comment below!


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