For me, it’s a balancing act between assessing how comfortable a cat is and will be, the benefits and risks of surgery or treatment, the quality of the remainder of the cat’s life and lastly the cost of treatment. Decisions, decisions, decisions….
For all cat caretakers, there comes a time when veterinary bills are liable to mount. This is when your cat is old and starts getting ill more frequently.
In the US, it is estimated that just 0.3% to 1% of the cat population is insured against veterinary bills¹. This is a very low figure. It appears that most people don’t want to add to their regular outgoings. They’d rather take a chance and hope that their cat remains healthy. However, at the geriatric stage of a cat’s life the usual feline illnesses such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, cancers, heart disease etc. start to click in and so do the decisions about what to do.
Do you spend lots of money on vet treatment or do you decide that it is time to euthanise? Your vet might advise you wisely but, ultimately, the decision is the cat caretaker’s and often it’s not about money. On the contrary, it’s mainly about emotion, love and loss.
The relationship between caretaker and cat has deepened over the past 4 decades. The bond is stronger and letting go is harder. Fifty to one hundred years ago you’d probably find that people were more willing to have their cat PTS when old rather than fork out on expensive treatments. It may have been the norm.
Treatments have improved, there are many more options and greater expectations. Veterinary surgeons can do wonderful things nowadays at a wonderful price. The decisions are more complicated.
Obviously, what a person spends on vet bills depends a lot on how much money the person has but I’d bet that a lot more people with lots of money are more willing to have their cat euthanised than relatively poor people. It is not about money. It is about a person’s connection and relationship with her cat(s).
Some cat caretakers would spend their last dime on medical treatment for their cat. They’d go bust before they stopped trying to prolong the life of their cat.
However, this can be foolhardy and dare I say it, selfish. The decision to treat the illnesses that beset the lives of elderly cats must include a discussion about the quality of life a cat can achieve with treatment. We are into the same sort of discussion we have in the press about euthanasia of people with terminal illnesses.
It is my belief that the vast majority of people believe that sensible and sensitive use of euthanasia is preferable to prolonging life when the quality is extremely poor.
So, putting aside the cost of treatment of an old cat who is seriously ill, the decision comes down to deciding what is best for our cat, which includes deciding if she in pain and what sort of quality of life is left for her. The decision should not be clouded by self-interest and what is best for the cat’s caretaker. In short, the decision should be governed by unconditional love and it should be as objective as possible.
There is no doubt that at this time an excellent veterinarian who has a lot of experience under his belt is invaluable. This is because the balance between quality of life and euthanasia depends on the information provided by your vet. I’d lean on him/her and ask tough questions. It is hard to know if a cat is in pain. A good vet can assess that much better than us. How long will your cat live even if given the best and most expensive treatment? Do you want her to live for 9 more months because (a) you don’t want to lose her or (b) because she will have a decent 9 months of life ahead of her?
- Ref: (1) embracepetinsurance.com
- Associated page: Changes in older cats.