CVMA-ACMV

Chronic Care of the Ill Pet at Home

December 7, 2012

Your role as caregiver for your pet can get a whole lot more complicated if you find yourself in the role of home nurse.

Most home chronic nursing plans are straightforward though, and once you get the feel for the procedures you will be required to carry out, you should be on your way.

Sometimes other factors can make the home treatment more of a challenge. An uncooperative patient is an obvious one! It is important to make sure your veterinary health care team carefully trains you if your pet is not inclined to sit quietly during care. It is very important to prevent bites and scratches to you or family helpers, as this is a health risk and can damage the all-important loving relationship between you and your pet.

When undertaking a new nursing program, try out the procedures in the hospital first so that you are sure you can do the whole thing. Changing a bandage or cleaning a feeding tube port may seem straightforward until you try it start to finish. Sometimes, a caregiver may have limitations that the veterinary trainer may not be aware of. For example, a senior with arthritis of the fingers may have difficulty managing insulin injections at home. Let staff know if you have any limitations that concern you. Another obvious concern is handling of large or giant breed dogs with mobility problems. Care aids such as doggie harness wheelchairs and lifters can be obtained to help in this type of situation.

Sometimes physical therapy such as joint manipulations, massage or other exercises for the pet may be prescribed. If you have trouble doing these at home, there are frequently opportunities to have the staff do these at the clinic for you on a regularly scheduled basis. 

For dogs, swimming or water treadmills (water treadmills are not widely available) may be prescribed to increase mobility in an arthritic or recovering surgical patient. This provides exercise without the force of the body weight loading on the joints. If you take your dog swimming, make sure entry and exit at the water’s edge is safe. Slipping or falling can be a safety issue for a pet without good mobility. If the dog is swimming in a pool, gently rinse the chlorine out from the dogs hair coat after each swim.

Sometimes cats with chronic kidney disease are prescribed home fluids to be given under the skin. This procedure is easy to do once you go through it a few times, and can give a sick kitty a much better quality of life.

Bandage care and application are sometimes required. It is important to remember to check the bandage regularly. Make sure it is not slipping, pinching or putting pressure on an area, and it has not become soiled or wet. Make sure you are well trained in the proper techniques as improperly applied bandages can cause serious problems. Replace them at intervals as prescribed.

When caring for pets receiving chemotherapy for cancer, it is important to remember that periodically, they can be immune system suppressed. This means that environmental germs are a greater risk to them than for a normal patient. Scrupulous attention to cleanliness and hygiene become important. Good hygiene is important for all ill pets needing home care!

Special diets, medications or nutritional supplements may also be prescribed in addition to the comfort care. It is important to establish a routine so that doses are not skipped, or double-dosed, and the family coordinates in their care efforts. Proper nutritional support is an important part of home nursing care.

As the front-line caregiver, you will be able to monitor your pet for signs of discomfort, suffering, and pain. These are not easy to gauge in pets, but a change in behaviour from what you expect is a common warning sign. A sociable cat that starts to hide, a friendly dog that growls, and a quiet pet that becomes vocal or paces are examples of changes we can see when an animal is uncomfortable. Changes in the normal posture or sleeping position, panting, shaking, urination and bowel movements out of place, and a reluctance to move can also be seen in some patients.

If in doubt, talk to your veterinarian because it is important that your pet stays comfortable at home.

Home care helps you to keep veterinary expenses to a minimum, keeps your pet in a familiar safe environment with people he knows and loves, and gives you an opportunity to provide the very best in nursing care to your pet. This is a great option for most pets with chronic health issues.