A guide to making medical decisions for your pet
One of the most common questions I am asked as a veterinarian is, “What would you do?”
The decisions I make for my own pets may be very different from those made by others. Below is a guide to help with decision making. This piece offers several points to consider when deciding whether or not to pursue a procedure, test, or further care. My hope is that the material covered here will help guide discussions with your veterinarian.
Some questions to consider:
Will the test or procedure change the treatment plan for your pet?
I am a big fan of testing, but only if it will change how I treat a patient. For example, if an owner tells me that they will not pursue further treatment or care even if the test provides a diagnosis, then I would think twice before performing the test or the procedure. This often comes into play with older animals, animals that may require intensive care or hospitalization, and animals who might be suffering from cancer.
Will the test or procedure change the prognosis for your pet?
If you pursue a treatment or test, will it prolong your pet’s life and by how long? If you choose not to pursue the procedure, what is the predicted outcome or prognosis? Make sure you know not only what the test or procedure will achieve, but also what will happen if you decide not to pursue it.
What is involved with the procedure or test?
Will your pet need to be sedated or anesthetized? Will they need to stay at the hospital all day or can the procedure be done on an outpatient basis?
Can you afford it?
This is always a tough question. Sometimes owners choose to forego testing or advanced treatment simply because it does not fit into their budget. It is our job as veterinarians to provide options for owners to choose from. If you can’t afford option A, what is option B? In some cases, there is only one option. When you’re presented with multiple choices and outcomes, you’ll want to be fully informed so you can decide which plan is best for you and your pet. If you are fortunate enough to have insurance for your pet, will your policy cover the procedure?
Can you deal with the emotional and physical demands of treatment?
If your pet is diagnosed with an illness based on testing, will you be able to medicate them? If your pet needs surgery that calls for after care, can you provide that? Are you able to support your pet if they need help going up or down stairs or if they need to be kept quiet or immobile to heal?
Will the procedure, test or medication improve your pet’s quality of life?
As part of the decision-making process, I always like to consider what effect the test, procedure, or medication will have on quality of life. Will the medication or procedure eliminate symptoms that are present or merely control them? Will it make your pet more comfortable or not?
My hope is that these questions will serve as things to think about and that you’ll be comfortable posing them to your veterinarian when it comes time to make big decisions regarding your pet’s health and medical care.