Quality of Life
You Want to Make Clear, Confident, No-Regret Decisions Regarding Your Pet’s Care
The main pet quality of life considerations fall into the realm of ethical and even moral beliefs.
If you ask yourself certain questions, you may feel a jolt, and understand immediately what you believe about certain topics. Once you know your beliefs, you will be able to make clear, confident, no-regret decisions. This process takes time. Moments of certainty may bring up further questions and the sinking feeling of weighty responsibility. Think of these trying times as an opportunity to process your beliefs, thoughts and emotions. Answers may or may not came to you all at once. Keep at it; with help, you will know what is right.
Doc Springer advises, “Dig into those gray areas, those confusing thoughts and emotions, and pull up diamonds of truth and clarity. I’ve helped thousands of people with this process; if you need help, I can help you, too.”
Does your pet experience a good quality of life?
Your Pet Lives for Today
Did you know that cats and dogs live in the moment? They are literal, steadfast, in-the-moment beings. This means they will not suffer with thoughts of self-pity when they feel ill. If their infirmity is temporary, or the severity of it is temporary, then treatment is certainly worthwhile. Your pet will enjoy future days just as she has in the past.
How do you know if your pet has a good quality of life? If your pet is very ill, or is facing a terminal diagnosis, like a cancer, or chronic, incurable, perhaps difficult-to-manage illness, you must be facing some tough decisions. These are often the most difficult issues a person will ever have to face. As a friend of mine said, “How can I make that kind of decision for another living being?”
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards,” –Sooryen Kierkegaard
If Your Pet is Young and Healthy, Write Down Your Beliefs About Pet Quality and End of Life Now, for Your Reference Later
If your pet is young and/or well, then you should be thinking about these issues for the future. Before you are facing the emotion, expense, and sheer denial of the time to come (someday), it helps a lot to feel out and think through your personal beliefs and values. Discuss with your family and loved ones how they feel, if they have an impact on the decisions. Write down your family thoughts about quality of life. When the inevitable approaches, you will have a reference, created by you and for you, to help future-you through the rough times.
To help objectify some of the issues to consider, you may consult a quality of life scale. Dr. Alice Villalobos is a veterinary oncologist in California who has published a Quality of Life Scale which many people find helpful to quantify their pet’s quality of life and track good days and bad. She suggests rating each item 1/10 with 1 being crappy and 10 healthy and happy, and adding each day up to see if your pet is over or under 35 altogether. Sometimes, no one thing is an obvious clue that your pet is ready to leave this world, and they do not give you “the look.” You have to make a semi-objective decision and the Quality of Life Scale can help.
Who Makes Medical Decisions for Your Pet?
Being sure about who is the decision-maker clarifies things when the time comes.
- Some families leave the decision to the person who had the pet before the family got together.
- Some families know that one person is super attached compared to everyone else.
- Some families make a group decision.
- Oftentimes I see people fight and stress out at each other because no one wants to take the brunt of the other people’s grief, so no one wants to make decisions.
- Sometimes, I see parents try to have under-age children decide, so they won’t be angry with them when they are older.
- Do not put healthcare decisions on children. This is the one scenario that I do not like to see.
Professional Help is Available on Many Levels
If your veterinarian, or a trusted nurse at the hospital can speak with you, that helps tremendously. Sometimes the veterinarian is very busy, or perhaps your pet is hospitalized with a specialist or emergency room with a staff whom you have just met. Oftentimes, family and friends may not understand the depth of your distress about your responsibilities to decide the right things for your pet, and also the loss and devastation you may be imminently facing upon the passing of your beloved.
If you are without understanding family and friends, as many people are in society today, if you are isolated and confused, in one of those awful situations, then reach out for help in further resources and links with VirtuaVet’s Bereavement Support Information . Several veterinary colleges offer support phone lines. There are online support groups. Local humane societies often run community support groups in person to help you with your overwhelming, and natural emotions and responsibilities. You know what? Some people pray. Prayer can help tremendously, especially if you practice it. Do not overlook any help you can get!
Tough Questions Emerge When a Pet Becomes Ill
Questions you may be asking yourself include:
- Is it the right time for euthanasia?
- How could you possibly be expected to take G*d’s will into your own hands and sign a permission form for euthanasia?
- What if you do it too soon?
- What if your pet suffers and you do it too late?
- Is there anything else that could be, or should be done?
- What if you do not have a diagnosis, because getting one is expensive and/or inconclusive? How do you make the decision when there are scientific degrees of uncertainty regarding your pet’s actual diagnosis?
- What if you just cannot afford anything else, even if the veterinarian indicates that the condition is manageable or treatable?
There are no perfect answers
There are some questions you can ask yourself to help sort out how you feel. These are exactly the sorts of questions I ask when I am coaching someone to reach a decision about their pet and their life.
- How would you feel if you never knew the name of the disease? Would you be okay not knowing as long as it meant your pet didn’t have any more tests? Or would it drive you crazy that you left a stone unturned.
- How would you feel if you knew your pet was only staying alive to please you? Would you feel badly, and ask your pet to go on their own if they had the power to? Maybe it is time.
- Do you feel that some of the indecision and uncertainty is about financial resources? Try to pretend you have unlimited money. If you had all the money in the world, would you want your pet to have further procedures or treatments? If you would, figure out a way to make it happen. You’d be surprised what mountains you can move when you set your whole being to the project. If you wouldn’t, then do what you feel is right, and know that the money situation is not the reason you made your decision.
- If you could walk, kneel, bend down, pill, inject with a needle into your pet, or otherwise perform the actual nursing home care your vet is talking about doing, would you feel your pet would want that? If you want your pet treated, and you cannot overcome a phobia (of needles, for example), talk with the nurses, and the vet about how to overcome the obstacle.
Personal, specific traits about your pet should validly factor into your decision about Quality of Life
- Does your pet hate the car ride for follow-ups?
- Are needles in the house/in the cat/out of the question for you?
- Does your pet vomit medication?
- Is your pet eating and drinking? Have you tried tons of suggestions from your veterinarian?
- Is your pet clean and neat? Can he or she be groomed comfortably? Does touching hurt your pet?
- Is your beloved still doing something he or she enjoys more days than not? Laying in the sun? Coming to the kitchen at dinnertime? Playing? Laying with you on the sofa? Watching TV? Sitting on your shoulder for a potato chip? You know–whatever your pet likes to do?
- Or, is he or she hiding, withdrawn?
- Is your cat sitting hunched up with her hair fluffed, eyes half shut, chin down? This is a painful cat. No kidding. Lots of agonizing pain.
Pawspice Care May be Right for Your Pet
If your pet is not ready to go, Pawspice, may be a wonderful option for you. Dr. Villalobos also authored this concept, which is a refinement and improvement on hospice care for people. As you consider further treatment, or further diagnostics and monitoring for your pet, your veterinarian should provide you with an approximate plan or follow-ups, trips to the office, and costs. Armed with this information, and a clearer ethical and moral view of yourself, you may still be very torn and unsure of what to do, but you will inevitably make the right decision.
May you have the clarity, strength and heart to do what you know is right for your beloved. Remember, old age is not a disease!
Continue reading about pet quality of life and moral dilemmas…
-Dr. Sandra Truli Springer, VMD, CVA, CVFT