Any time a pet is diagnosed with a chronic disease, a decision must be made by the caregiver on whether to treat the disease or not. As RVTs, although we would like to, we cannot make that decision for the client. And often, we don’t like or agree with the decision that they do make. It is important to remember that being an advocate for our patients does not include making judgements on how their caregivers choose to care for them. Remember that we do not know what else the client has going on in their life and those details will influence their decision.
By Uwe Gille (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I believe that clients should be given as much information as possible to make their decision. This article includes a list of questions that clients commonly ask when their pet is diagnosed with a chronic disease (of course, this conversation is likely to be between the DVM and the client, but sometimes clients find RVTs easier to ask questions of. Be certain that you don’t discuss prognosis; this is the DVMs responsibility). As you can see from the list, there are many things that clients must think about, including the time commitment they will have to make for treatments. Care of a pet should never be a burden on a client; this can lead to resentment of the pet and that is not fair to them. If a client is not willing to commit to treatment required, then it may be best to simply keep the pet comfortable for as long as possible.
Another article on the topic also discusses the many things that clients must think about when making the decision on how to treat their pet with a chronic disease. These decisions go much deeper than finances, including the client’s current own mental and emotional health, if they are currently caring for other family members, and whether the pet will even tolerate treatments. If it is going to be a battle to give the medications needed, it can be detrimental to the loving bond between pet and owner. Surely not the best way to spend the dusk of a pet’s life.
By Sgt. 1st Class Walter Van Ochten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This article demonstrates that the choice of treating a pet is very individual; not only the person, but the pet. The decision one makes for Fluffy may be very different than the decision the same person makes for a different pet at a different time. Some pets are stoic and do well when having to be in hospital for a time. Others are terrified to even leave an exam room without their owner. Perhaps finances have changed, the client is in a different place emotionally or they now have an aging parent to care for. Remember that for every pet that you are caring for “in the back” there is a person connected for them “up front”. We must absolutely be a voice for our patients but we must never forget that their family has to make the decision based on what is best for them and their pet at the time.
I think as RVTs, our most important role in decisions of euthanasia is to be real when speaking to clients. That doesn’t mean necessarily telling them what we think is the right thing to do. It means supporting the DVM in giving the client the information they need. And then supporting the client in whatever decision that they make. They know their pet best and they will make the most loving decision they are capable of at the time.