Because We Can, Doesn’t Mean We Should.

The title of this blog is a phrase I use often in evaluating and discussing treatment options with owners of sick pets. When I say this, what I mean is that we should always think about what is in the best interest of the cat or dog. A major surgery on a fifteen year old patient can be performed to, say, remove a tumor, but the pet will have recovery time that is extended due to age factors in healing. Is it wrong to perform a surgery on an old pet. The answer is……well, there is no one answer. It depends. It depends on the overall condition of the pet, the general life expectancy (a large breed dog at fifteen has already outlived most of its peers), and the predicted result.

An old pet with bad teeth can have greatly improved comfort in its remaining days by having dental work done that will relieve pain and eliminate infection. In contrast, removing a large cancerous tumor (from an elderly pet) that may have spread is less likely to have the short term benefits that warrant doing that procedure. Does that mean it is wrong to do it? No. Not if everyone involved is on board with what the results may be. My advice for clients considers the variables of life expectancy along with quality of life.

My advice for an old pet may be different than for a middle aged or young animal. An old pet that ruptures a ligament in its knee may be managed with rest, pain medicine, and laser among other options. The old pet’s knee doesn’t need to last five to ten more years! In a younger animal, surgery is often recommended to keep the dog healthy and pain free for years to come.

End of life care is one of those things that requires owners and veterinarians to be on the same wave length. If I am thinking palliative care for an old pet with several chronic issues and the pet owner is wanting more aggressive care, we need to talk about what is in the best interest of the pet. I need to be flexible in these cases. If a client wants surgery for their ailing pet, we need to have a discussion about the short and long term outlook. After making decisions on a pet’s care, it is not unusual for me to ask, “Are we in agreement about what is best here?”, just so I know that I understand what the person involved wants.

This issue has come up recently with my own old cat, Truffles, Truffles is having health issues. I am facing making those decisions of what will keep her comfortable and happy for the time she has left. I am struggling with those decisions. I know that no matter what I do, I cannot make her young again. I am devastated by the thought of losing her, but trying to focus on what is best for her. These are not easy decisions, as anyone who has ever loved a pet knows.