A question that all too often enters the mix when dealing with a patient. As I near the end of a Senior Focus at our clinics, I acknowledge the fact that this is a conversation mostly heard from our ageing patients. However, it also enters into the situation as we discuss catastrophic accidents, early cancer diagnosis, and other unforeseen circumstances. I think the answer to the question can still follow the same process.
Certain situations are easy to assess and come to a conclusion. i.e. Hit by a vehicle, smashed up beyond repair, patient in pain beyond reasonable control. The situations not so clear are the overweight patient that has started to really struggle with arthritis, the diabetic that has become blind, the chronic renal disease that is exhibiting signs of dementia like behaviour, and the list goes on. In these pets, how do we determine if it is time?
Everyone reading this and all my colleagues in the field will have their criteria of assessment. I try to have the pet owner consider the pet and the pet’s behaviour and answer the following question – Does the pet still enjoy doing the things that they always liked to do? This, of course, is about a quality of life rather than a quantity. As well, certain issues can be managed reasonably well, i.e. chronic arthritic pain, long-term kidney disease. The use of medication should also be assessed, in my opinion, with the same lens – does it improve the quality of life. I will sometimes hear that medications are just prolonging the inevitable. That may indeed be true, but sometimes those medicines can make a massive impact on the unavoidable while allowing the pet an excellent quality of life.
I would submit that all of us with pets have struggled with this question. In the end, some thoughtful reflection about the pet and their life in the past, along with input from your veterinary team, and the answer to Is It Time will become a bit more obvious. It is a difficult thing to do, but we as pet owners owe them that much for the unconditional love they extend to us on a daily basis.
Written by Dr Tim Blat