"What would you do if this were your pet?" is one of the most common questions I answer as a veterinarian.
I appreciate the sentiment behind this question. At that moment, I have offered further options for testing and treatment, or maybe it's time to discuss euthanasia. My client wants to know how I, seeing their pet from a different perspective, would proceed if this individual animal meant the world to me. I do not take this question lightly, and I will pause at that moment and let the emotion affect me. I might even close my eyes for just a second. I let myself picture my 11-year-old poodle mix and the faces of my children who depend on her presence in their lives. I answer as honestly as I can, even if the textbooks don't agree. This is my guideline on "what I would do."
I would consider my pet's overall health. How are they feeling most days? Do they have multiple health issues we are dealing with, or are they healthy for the most part and the current problem is only a setback? Do we have current blood work (or X-rays depending on the condition), and do we know their organs are functioning normally and there are no other concerns? If I am looking at a complicated illness or multiple illnesses, chronic health problems, and now a new concern for which treatment might compromise the health of my pet's organs, etc., I might question whether treatment is truly the best way to proceed.
I would think about the outcome I expect from moving forward. If I'm deciding on whether to treat or discontinue treatment, I consider how much we will gain from treatment. Are we delaying the inevitable? Can they be happy and feel good during the treatment process? Are we gaining extra time or are we decreasing pain by moving forward with this plan? What difference will it make for them? If we can keep them comfortable and gain weeks or months of time, then I might choose treatment.
I would consider what we are asking of them. Is it fair to expect then to endure what comes next? Will this be supportive care given in a comfortable way, or is this invasive treatment that is painful or requires us to be separated for an extended time? Will it be stressful for them? We cannot explain what is happening to our pets, so is this OK to ask of them?
At some point, we all have to consider the cost involved in our next step. No one wants to think of money being the limiting factor in the care of our pets, but, at the end of the day, we have families, bills to pay, and other important needs that require money as well. We all have to prioritize our budget, and there are times when all the money in the world cannot make disease or injury or tragedy go away. Will taking this money from one area of life and putting it toward the care of this pet under this circumstance make a difference? Will this animal be in a better situation because of this sacrifice?
Money is not the only commitment we are making. By choosing this option for my pet, do I understand the time, emotion, physical care, and other factors that I will be responsible to provide? Will it all be on my shoulders, or do I have a support system to help me perform the necessary tasks?
To make a decision about the life and health of another living being is a heavy responsibility. It is overwhelming at best. Emotions run high and sometimes my clients choose to jump in only to later regret their decision. It is never wrong to ask your veterinarian what they would do if your baby were his/her pet. As vets, we see a lot of happy endings and some very sad endings, too. We can help guide you through this overwhelming moment that will impact your pet and your family in such a significant way. We know the science, but we lead with our hearts.
Go Magazine on 03/15/2020
Print Headline: What I Would Do