Nutrition and Hydration
Eating, drinking and similar functions may seem to become less important to your pet. In a dying animal, the spirit is beginning to transition and the physical body is aware of it.
Here are some tips to ensure your animal gets all of the nutrients it needs:
Hill’s A/D diet is a canned food that both cats and dogs can swallow even in their last hours. It can be mixed with water and fed with a syringe when necessary. If your pet is not eating the Hill's A/D, mix it with beef broth and Nutri-cal (to add calories) and mix it to a consistency where your pet can lick it up.
Baby food mixed with a little water. Turkey baby food is easily digested.
Soak and mash dry food. You may also want to put it in a blender to smooth the consistency even further. Soaking some brands of dry food may take 45 minutes to an hour to become soft.
Pets may become very selective eaters when they age. This is certainly a problem in their last days. It may be necessary to cook for your pet at this time. Foods that may be hard to digest can be liquefied in a food processor or blender.
If you typically feed your pet once a day, and you are finding that your pet is not eating at all, or is not eating all of their food, try splitting their daily meal into two portions and feed one portion in the morning and the other in the evening.
Especially for an animal with cancer, give them Omega 3 and Omega 6 nutrient-rich foods or supplements to support their immune system.
Tips for Hill's Prescription Diet: My animals hate the taste of this food and wouldn't eat it. How many of us don't like eating food that is good for us? Simple trick - if your dog doesn't like Hill's Prescription Diet foods, add a few drops of honey and mix it in. For cats, add clam juice. They will absolutely love it!
My philosophy: At the end of life, if your pet will agree to eat, feed them their favorite foods. Nutrition is important, but so are “comfort foods”.
Note: If an animal is days or hours away from passing, it is normal for the animal not to experience the sensation of hunger. If you offer food, and the animal turns its head away, it may be that the mere smell of food is making it feel nauseous. Wait awhile and offer food again, to see if they will be more open to eating at that time. Wet food, or dry food that has been softened, may be more appealing, as will be food that is slightly heated.
Obesity - Obesity is due to reduced activity, overfeeding, and a lower metabolic rate. Additional weight can stress the heart, exacerbate arthritis, resulting in an animal that is even less likely to exercise. Diet and exercise are the answers. Moderate play will keep your pet’s muscles toned, blood circulating, and prevent constipation – a serious problem, especially in older cats.
Underweight - Some dogs, especially those who remain active, will actually lose weight as they age. Extra protein foods will only stress their kidneys. If your dog needs to put on some pounds, add rice to their diet. It works wonders.
If your pet is able to stand, have an easily accessible water bowl available and filled at all times. Adequate hydration is a comfort measure as well as a physical need. Animals that are sick or dying are often not aware of their need for fluids, and their thirst signal may be less active. A well-hydrated animal, no matter what their state of health, is more comfortable.
Keep your pet well hydrated, whether that is with a dropper filled with water, or with an intravenous drip. The intravenous drip can be administered at scheduled intervals by your vet, at their office. In many cases, however, your vet will sell you the necessary equipment and provide you with training so that you can administer the IV fluids yourself, at home, where your pet is the most comfortable. This may be the only practical solution for a pet that is gravely ill.
Note: If your animal is days or hours away from passing, your pet may not want to drink. If you think that your animal has a hope of recovery, then hydrating the animal by giving fluids by mouth or under the skin may be an option. However, many animals in the process of dying will stop drinking water because being dehydrated can lower the pain threshold. Some animals may drink lukewarm water after they refused cold water. During hospice, you may have to support your pet’s head in an upright position in order for your pet to be able to drink. Once an animal has stopped drinking entirely, it may only be hours or days before your pet passes. This would be a time to stay with your pet, to support them in their last hours.