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Metro Atlanta Has One of the First Certified Experts in Animal Hospice and Palliative Care

Kristen Arp, DVM, CHPV, is in the world’s first class of students to gain the distinction

Loganville, GA -  Since opening Bay Creek Mobile Veterinary Services in June of 2012, the metro Atlanta area’s pets and loved ones have had expanded options for end-of-life care.  But until now, pet owners had no way of knowing whether an animal professional has received any advanced training in comfort care of terminally or chronically ill patients. 

Dr. Kristen Arp, owner of Bay Creek Mobile Veterinary Services, PC, joins fewer than fifty veterinarians worldwide to become a Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian (CHPV).

It’s only recently that standards of care have been established for the emerging field of hospice and palliative veterinary medicine, which is aimed at supporting a pet’s quality of life during and chronic or terminal illness. The pet’s physical needs and symptoms are addressed, as well as emotional, social and environmental needs.  The emotional, spiritual, and social needs of the pet’s family are also discussed and addressed.  Combined, a unique and specialized treatment plan is developed for the pet.

The effort to set guidelines for hospice and palliative medicine was spearheaded by the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC), which also administers the certification program.  Over 16 months, students must complete 100 hours of advanced training, complete two case reports demonstrating their knowledge and competence in palliative medicine, and pass a comprehensive exam.  The program is offered annually and is open to licensed veterinarians.

According to IAAHPC guidelines, the needs of the entire family unit should be considered.  Veterinary professionals, pet care providers, human mental health workers and grief counselors may all play a role in providing a family with multi-faceted support. In the case of a terminal illness, hospice providers can guide the family through deciding if and when to choose euthanasia, or can help them keep their pet comfortable through the natural dying process.

Dr.  Arp pursued hospice training after realizing they great need for comfort care for pets in the advanced stages of a life-limiting illness.  “Families often don’t realize that this is available. They are often given two dramatic options in the face of a serious diagnosis:  aggressive treatment or euthanasia.  Hospice care can bridge that gap, easing things for the pet and family alike, “says Dr. Arp.  

“Providing this care and support in home helps both pet and the family, allowing them to remain in their comfort zone during a stressful time.  When I sit down with a family in their home, there are no interruptions or distractions.  I can let them tell me all of their story, share their hopes and fears, and then we can begin to find the best path forward, together. “   The family participates in developing the personalized care plan and receives education on what to expect as their pet’s disease progresses.  They get help learning how to administer medicines, make changes in the household to help their pet manage, and how to handle unexpected events.  

For families seeking in home euthanasia, a peaceful passing for their pet is of the utmost importance.  “I have heard many stories of stressful euthanasia situations from clients.  They are painful memories, even years later,” says Dr. Arp.  “This is probably the most difficult decision a family ever makes for their pet.  I know I cannot make it easy, but I will do everything I can to ensure that it is as gentle and peaceful as possible.  I avoid moving the pet from their comfy spot, so as not to startle them or cause more pain.  Relaxing sedation beforehand allows the pet to drift off to sleep with their loved ones by their side, and ensures that their passing is painless.”  Just as the hospice experience is personalized, euthanasia visits are tailored to the needs of the family and the pet, and proceed at the pace and in the manner that is best for them.

If a pet owner has any question about whether hospice or palliative care services are appropriate for their pet, they are encouraged to call Bay Creek Mobile Veterinary Services.  Pets with many age related conditions such as osteoarthritis or cognitive changes can benefit from this specialized care as much as those with cancer or kidney failure.  “We are always happy to discuss your pet’s situation.  If your pet may be a candidate for hospice or palliative care, or if you are trying to decide if it might be time to let your pet go, we want to be certain that you have the answers to your questions.  No family should have to navigate this on their own,”   says Dr. Arp.

Dr. Arp hopes that the development of hospice and palliative care as a specific area of interest will help raise awareness of the need for quality of life management in senior and seriously ill pets, as well increase recognition of the impact that caring for these pets can have on their humans.  “The veterinary profession has traditionally focused on ‘cure’, which is great.  But when ‘cure’ is not possible, ‘comfort’ must take center stage,” she says.