Forty years ago, in her landmark book “On Death and Dying,” Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross observed that “maybe at the end of our days, when we have worked and given, enjoyed ourselves and suffered, we are going back to the stage that we started out with and the circle of life is closed.” As human life expectancy has lengthened, the need to openly and frankly manage end of life issues has increased. Over the last four decades, with increasingly sophisticated veterinary medicine, animal life expectancy, including that of zoological species, has similarly extended. By necessity, zoos have been coping with problems such as aggressive pain management and the need to incorporate end of life care into veterinary medicine. But these efforts have yet to include any formal acknowledgment that they are a simple form of hospice.
Hospice care for humans, and now for companion animals, includes much more than pain relief and geriatric medicine. It is instructive to review the concepts and basic practices of hospice and, the closely related field of palliative care for their relatively recent application to companion animal care, and potential applications to zoological medicine. Formal acknowledgment and incorporation of these concepts and practices into zoological medicine could provide: 1) improved animal care, 2) reduced potential for bad publicity and conflict with the public and animal advocates, and 3) opportunities for personal growth of zoo visitors and staff.