Have you ever found yourself so deeply moved by a notion that shifts your perspective, and changes the way you see the world? Well, pull up a chair and settle down, because we’ve got quite the story for you.

In one of our recent podcast episodes, Dr Shea Cox invites us into an area of veterinary science that is emerging and incredibly important yet is often overshadowed – the field of palliative and hospice care for pets.

We’ve grown accustomed to a fast-paced, cure-driven approach to health issues, where success is measured in terms of disease eradication, and this approach serves us well in many cases, but what about scenarios where the disease is chronic, incurable, or terminal?

This was the question Dr Cox grappled with, leading her to reshape her professional journey. Trained as an emergency and critical care vet, she was accustomed to the adrenaline rush of solving urgent cases. But she was also exposed to the harsh reality of mortality. She realised the gap in the system – there wasn’t much to offer when the goal wasn’t cure, but comfort.

And thus, she embraced the field of veterinary palliative and hospice care.

Before we delve deeper, let’s shed the common misconception about palliative and hospice care. It’s not about “giving up.” On the contrary, it’s about embracing a different definition of healing, one that prioritises quality of life and peaceful transitions over frantic searches for cures.

Imagine this: You’re a pet parent. Your beloved companion has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The news is devastating, and the path ahead seems daunting. But then, you encounter someone like Dr Cox, who gently guides you and your pet through this journey, focusing not on the disease but on the quality of life, allowing your pet to live their remaining days with dignity and peace.

It’s about creating a safe and comfortable environment, managing pain effectively, providing mental stimulation, and keeping up with their favourite activities as long as they are comfortable. It’s about cherishing the time left rather than dreading the inevitable.

Such care extends beyond our furry friends to their human families as well. Navigating through the emotional labyrinth of a pet’s terminal illness is tough, and guidance is often needed. Dr Cox’s work involves supporting the pet parents, helping them make decisions, and preparing them for what lies ahead.

It’s also about facilitating a conversation that many of us dread: the conversation about end-of-life decisions. In an open, compassionate setting, pet owners can discuss their fears and uncertainties, enabling them to make informed decisions that resonate with their values and the needs of their pets.

Despite its importance, veterinary palliative and hospice care is an area that’s just beginning to flourish. As Dr Cox points out, it’s a specialty that requires unique skills and empathy. It’s about recognising that sometimes, the most profound healing comes not from curing but from caring.

Dr Cox’s journey is a gentle reminder to us all that progress isn’t always about pushing forward relentlessly; sometimes, it’s about pausing, re-evaluating, and understanding that the journey’s pace and direction can change.

Veterinary palliative and hospice care might seem like a niche field now, but its impact is profound. And as we progress, it’s practitioners like Dr Cox who lead the way, proving that when it comes to health and healing, there’s always room to grow and evolve.

So, next time you think about senior pets and diagnoses, remember there’s more than just treating diseases. There’s nurturing, caring, and comforting – and that’s what truly makes a difference in the lives of our furry companions and their families. It’s about going beyond the disease, that is the beauty of veterinary palliative and hospice care

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