A brief guide on common symptoms for the geriatric and terminally ill patient. 


Talk with your regular veterinarian about signs of pain that are particular to the disease process your pet is suffering from. Some of the most common signs are heavy panting, pacing, whining, growling, lying in an abnormal posture or abnormal place, or decreased appetite. 


Some medical appetite stimulants are available through your veterinarian and may help your pet become more interested in food. During hospice care though, remember that many pets may become uninterested in food altogether; this is normal. Nutrition at this point is not about a balanced diet but rather about maintaining energy. Trying novel foods may help. Feed your pet different things in different areas of your home at different times of the day. Baby food, ground beef, Vienna sausage, and puréed meat have found some success with some patients. Never force-feed your pet, this may cause unnecessary anxiety.


Just as with food, many pets will become uninterested in drinking. You may try low-sodium chicken broth or use a syringe to gently wet the tongue; sometimes this will stimulate a few licks. Adding a small amount of glycerin to the water may thicken it up. You may continue to wet the mouth even in the later stages of the dying process, but never force water down your pet’s throat. 

Hydration of the eye is something easily over-looked; eye lubricants are available through your regular veterinarian. 


There are many medications and treatment modalities that can help reduce pain and inflammation when mobility becomes an issue, ask your veterinarian about what they recommend. Reliable footing is probably the most important and easiest thing to change in your pet’s immediate surroundings. Non-slip carpets or yoga mats can dramatically decrease slipping.  As the problems progress, you may find your pet pacing and panting, particularly at night time. Anti-anxiety and/or pain medication may help him or her sleep more soundly. At some point, medical and external modalities will cease to work and your pet will not be able to stand. This is usually a very difficult thing for pets to experience and you will see signs of anxiety (whining, heavy panting). 

Without intervention, animals will develop bed sores, urine scalding, infections, and eventually may have difficulty breathing. 


Uncontrolled urination and defecation is normal as our pets age or diseases worsen. Maintaining hygiene is important to prevent sores, urine scalding, and eventually infections. Shaving the hair from these problem areas will keep the skin dry and aid in cleaning. Baby powder and diaper cream can also prevent problems from arising. Choose bedding that is easily cleaned and changed – baby stores have a large selection of mattress covers and other water-proof bedding. You may also pick up some “chux pads” at any local drug store. 


As your pet’s guardian, you are the most important person to judge your pet’s happiness. You know him the best and know what he loves to do. Think about the things that make him special to you. When in doubt, simply sit quietly with him and ask him if he’s ready. You’d be surprised at how loudly they can speak to us when we try to listen.