How many of you have agonized over old cats and treatment decisions for ill or elderly pets? What were your toughest questions?
It can be so hard to make decisions, especially when there are no guarantees of a good outcome. Believe it or not, it doesn’t get easier with experience. Why? Because every animal is different. It’s rare for any of the decisions to involve the same situation. It’s not like playing baseball where you soon learn when to run, and you get better at judging your chance of making it to the next base.
Since our focus is on senior and special needs cats, we face treatment decisions for ill and/or elderly pets much more often than we like. The result is a basic formula to help us assess the individual animal. First, we look at the quality of life. Eating and drinking, sleeping, eliminating, socializing, and pain level, are basics to evaluate. Then, we drill that down on a scale of one to ten. How would you rank each of those items compared to the behavior of a normal healthy pet? Sure, age will matter. Think of what you’d expect of a mature adult animal.
Second, how well does your pet maintain those functions without medications or constant help from you or other loving caregivers? Of course, some pets require thyroid medication, or asthma treatment and similar daily medication, just as some people do. If it’s a routine medication, and maybe it has been for years, that’s fine. The concerns are constant infections, dental disease, or eye disease that can’t be treated due to multiple medical problems, weight loss, renal failure, pain, and more.
If you are propping up daily functions with medication, are you doing it for him/her or you? Are these normal aging or disease progression changes that only require comfort care and still result in a decent quality of life? Or, are the number of medications climbing, while the pet continues to decline regardless of what’s done? Some animals, like some people, let you know they will go along with almost any reasonable program. Others simply do not want to be messed with and prefer to be allowed to move on. It’s hard, but we owe them respect for their natural desires.
Treatment decisions for ill or elderly pets are never easy. We will discuss more about the care of senior pets in other posts, as well as the progression that leads up to confronting those tough decisions and the emotional roller-coaster it causes for the family or caregivers.
Send me your questions for future posts. I won’t use your name unless you give me permission.