Feline hospice, palliative care guidelines highlight cat, caregiver wellbeing

Recently released guidelines focus on feline hospice and palliative care, emphasizing communication and ethical considerations while providing individualized care. They also discuss specific diseases, feline pain management best practices, and cat-friendly interactions.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and The International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) released the 2023 AAFP/IAAHPC Feline Hospice and Palliative Care Guidelines this past October.  

They highlight the importance of comfort care for the patient and emotional wellbeing for the client, recognizing connections among physical, psychological, and social needs of the patient.

An elderly person tenderly caresses their cat
The 2023 American Association of Feline Practitioners/International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care’s Feline Hospice and Palliative Care Guidelines present an evidence-guided approach by which veterinary professionals can successfully meet the needs of patients that qualify for hospice and palliative care, along with meeting the needs and goals of their caregivers.

“These guidelines provide a comprehensive summary about how to approach and support the needs of both the cat and caregiver,” said Dr. Katrina Breitreiter, owner of South Austin Cat Hospital, in Austin, Texas, and co-chair of the task force convened by both organizations to create the guidelines, in an announcement. “This is a valuable resource to any veterinary professional that treats cats in their practice.”  

The document introduces the idea of the “unit of care” which is drawn from human medicine and encourages collaboration among members of the interdisciplinary team to best support the caregiver and their needs. 

“Rather than the feline patient being the sole focus of care, the care unit includes caregivers and their needs. Utilizing this approach pairs veterinary professionals with social workers, charities, and mental health professionals to facilitate open communication about treatment preferences and goals of care. That is one of the foundations of contemporary end-of-life care. End-of-life care requires an interdisciplinary approach, as veterinary teams alone are not trained to deliver care to, and cater to the psychological, social, and spiritual needs of, people,” according to the guidelines, which were published in the September 2023 issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.  

Other topics included in the document are as follows:

  • A five-step care plan that allows for tailoring the approach to both the cat and the family involved in the care.
  • A discussion about communication and caregiver preferences, relationship-centered care, and guiding the caregiver through the consultation.
  • Establishing a “budget of care,” which influences what can be done for the individual cat by establishing what is reasonable, practical, and ethical.
  • Assessment of the cat’s mental health, meeting the individual cat’s essential needs, and environmental modification.
  • Nutrition and hydration management.
  • The latest information available about how to assess the quality of a cat’s life.

A handful of resources may be used by veterinary professionals to aid caregiver understanding and recognition of feline pain, the control of which is important to maintaining a good quality of life. These supplemental materials involve an educational brochure for cat caregivers, a video on teaching cats to get used to taking medication, and a patient questionnaire for veterinary professionals to use during a consultation.

The guidelines’ development was supported by an educational grant to the AAFP from Royal Canin.

The guidelines’ authors wrote that “the veterinary team’s bioethical obligations to the cat, the cat’s caregiver, and wider care unit provide both a lens through which to consider all the diverse aspects of hospice and palliative care, and a formal framework within which to facilitate the shared decision-making that cats, their caregivers and their care units need and deserve.”


For more information on the 2023 American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP)/International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care’s (IAAHPC) Feline Hospice and Palliative Care Guidelines, visit the AAFP and IAAHPC websites.

In addition, the AVMA recognizes that clients facing terminal illness in companion animals may want veterinary end-of-life care for their pets. Veterinary end-of-life care gives clients time to make decisions regarding a companion animal with a terminal illness or condition and to accordingly. View the AVMA policy for more information.