Thursday, October 6, 2011

End-of-Life Care for Animals

Ella Bittel and Momo
[Reviewed and updated March 8, 2022]

All we animal lovers ever want is to do the best for our animal. When it comes to dying, what is best can be more complex than euthanizing. There is a way to come to peace with the dying process and discover its life enriching value. Animals can teach us about this if we let them. ~ Ella Bittel, Holistic Veterinarian

Coping with the terminal illness of a cherished animal companion presents the same challenges to an animal lover as would anticipating of the death any other family member. Today hospice and palliative care for human beings provides a much needed service to the dying and to those who care for them, but finding such support for a beloved animal close to the end of life can be more difficult.

Reflecting a growing trend toward allowing companion animals a natural death at home, the concept of providing hospice and palliative care for our four-legged friends is similar to that offered for people. The focus is the same: on providing safety and comfort care in loving, familiar surroundings, rather than on aggressive treatment and cure in a hospital setting. Animal hospice is based on a belief that, with proper preparation and guidance for everyone involved, symptoms can be managed, pain can be controlled, and death can be experienced with dignity and compassion. In this way, pet hospice can be an effective alternative to euthanasia.

Of course, not all animal lovers are in a position to take on the significant commitment of time and resources that animal hospice requires. Not all veterinarians are willing and able to offer hospice care and home visits, and not all can be reached at those times when burning questions arise for the caregiver. Some animal clinics strive to lend an open ear and practical advice with e-mail and telephone help lines, but those services aren't always enough to prepare the caregiver for this very special time in an animal's life.

To have euthanasia available to shorten an animal's life can be of great benefit, especially if aggressive treatment for a fatal injury or terminal illness causes even more pain, anxiety and illness. Yet many animals have a remarkable will to live out their lives, even if they may experience physical discomfort. This can easily be overlooked when our sole focus is on not wanting the animal to suffer. Being unfamiliar with the natural dying process can lead to feelings of helplessness, and final decisions can be made from a state of fear.

If you are preparing for a time of challenge with your own companion animal, or if you're simply interested in learning more about animal hospice, SPIRITS in Transition is for you. Created and presented by Holistic Veterinarian Ella Bittel, the weekend seminar is designed to give tools to those who wish to provide end-of-life care for their animal companions. Since no one really knows when the need for that care may arrive, it is never too early to learn about the special needs of dying animals and what is important in animal hospice.

Samples of topics covered in the seminar SPIRITS in Transition include the following:
  • Re-evaluating common reasons for euthanasia
  • Situations commonly encountered during hospice care
  • Holistic approaches to pain relief
  • Reducing the risk of cancer for our pet
  • Creating an environment conducive to a peaceful transition, whether death occurs naturally or through euthanasia
  • The stages of the natural dying process
  • How scientific research on subtle energy aspects of the dying process ties in with the insights of ancient masters
  • Supporting ourselves and grieving animal family members
If you’d like to be on Dr. Bittel’s email list, host a seminar in your area, or have any questions, contact or call Bunny Morrow at 805.598.6496. Visit the Spirits In Transition website at

If you’d like more information about the Animal Hospice Movement, I’ve assembled the following list of resources on my website’s Animal Hospice page, reprinted here for your convenience. If you know of any other relevant resources, please feel free to add them in the Comments section, below:

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  1. Thank you, Marty, for this wonderful article. Dr. Bittel has served as a mentor, supporter and dear friend to New England Pet Hospice since its inception. She has inspired us in countless ways and taught us so very much not only about animal hospice care, but also about living and dying.

    We are especially delighted to announce that New England Pet Hospice has coaxed Dr. Bittel east of the Rockies for her first New England seminar! She will be teach the Spirits in Transition seminar here in Massachusetts May 18-20. Please contact me for more information.

    Best wishes,
    Heather Merrill
    Founder and Director
    New England Pet Hospice, Inc.

  2. Wonderful, Heather! Thank you so much for letting us know!


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