Readers lend their perspectives to this post:
There is another lens through which to view expensive and invasive veterinary procedures: quality of life. If vets counseled their clients about the chances of treatment’s success and the potential impact on the pet’s remaining life, it may make the wrenching choice to forego treatment easier. Your dog has cancer? Sure, Vets ‘R Us can offer chemo and radiation for $10,000, but Fido will be very sick for eight weeks with no understanding of why you are subjecting him to this torturous process and there is only a 30% chance of your beloved pet surviving six months.
But we aren’t even having these discussions about treatment for ourselves, so I hold out little hope it will happen for our pets.
Another is on the same page:
Chemo is awful. It’s painful, draining and generally unpleasant. But as humans, we go into it with an appreciation of our own mortality – yes, this is really going to suck, but it will be worth it if I can get an extra 2, 3 or 10 years out of it to spend with my family. But our dogs and cats have no such knowledge of their mortality. To them, they’re essentially being tortured for no apparent reason. Our lovable, sassy, fat cat has a family history of cancer, and to my wife and I, the only humane option if she falls victim is to put her down gently so she doesn’t suffer.
A few more readers:
Last week I almost sent the Dish an email hoping you would present my difficulty coming to a decision about having an operation on a growth next to my dog’s nose.
It emerged rather quickly in June. So I took her to the vet to see what it was. I didn’t get her usual vet at the two-person clinic; I got the one with whom I have a disconnect. Because the animal can’t verbalize what’s going on, communication with their health professional and you is important.
After a scrape of the skin cells, the vet came to me and indicated that she saw round cells, and with the growth’s “aggressiveness” she recommended excision. Since my dog would be out for this procedure, we should do a dental cleaning and perhaps extraction. She had an estimate in hand, which put the range at $700 to $1000. I left thinking I would move quickly and have this done, but I soon began questioning whether I wanted to put a 14-year-seven-month-old dog through this.
Days later I was able to talk to her regular vet, who framed the situation more realistically: “Do I want to put her through this and gain X amount of time? Or do I see this as the beginning of the end?” I brought my dog back to the vet for x-rays of her lungs (the most likely place for a primary cancer), and there was nothing to indicate something else was going on that would bring her down. My stress over whether to act ratcheted up. If what was on her face was cancer, did I want a tumor to keep growing on her face? Would it enter the bone?
As a freelance writer, I wasn’t able to focus on work. Finally last week, a black piece of skin came off her crusty nose, and I returned to the vet, after a discussion of biopsy … could it be a fungal infection? The vet looked at my dog and said that the original growth had healed nicely and she was no longer concerned. Perhaps it had even been a bee or wasp sting. I was delighted but also an emotional puddle.
In reading David Grimm’s piece, I acknowledge that his topic is one that speaks to a lot of people, but I would like to add another element to the discussion: even if one can afford the cost, is the treatment always something that we want to put our beloved pets through? I had always told myself that I wouldn’t take extreme measures – that I wouldn’t initiate chemotherapy treatments, for example – but this was something that fell short of that and yet could be the first sign of her decline and death. How was I to make the right decision based on her quality of life?
Another considers another calculus:
I understand that there is a sentimental component to the decision to forego a $5,000 operation for your pet, but from a moral standpoint I have no hesitation. Given that there is an oversupply of dogs and cats, putting one down simply means you can drive to the humane society and save another from being euthanized. Sure, it may be more painful for you, but from a broader perspective of the worldwide dog or cat population, and even from a personal karma perspective, you come out even to slightly ahead.
(Photo of a reader’s dying dog from one of our most popular threads last year, “The Last Lesson We Learn From Our Pets“)