Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Despite advances in veterinary care, there are limits and that can carry an increasing emotional burden

Health care has been a hot topic in the recent election, and it's no wonder: the cost has risen along with the advances that have been made in medical treatment. Those of us who share life with pets know that the same holds true in veterinary medicine. While the basic medical care and preventative services are fairly affordable, treatment for other things like chronic conditions, surgeries, alternative treatments and care by a veterinary specialist cost more and for some families, they can be out of reach. 

Pet health insurance can help defer the financial burden of medical care. As someone who did not take advantage of that option as it had gained popularity during the latter part of my pet's lives, I admit that I wish I had. I had put away extra money for their care and was able to manage paying for four hospitalizations—which included two surgeries—as well as some alternative treatment to complement the traditional treatment plans to address their needs. If I hadn't, I assure you that would have informed my decision-making processes differently. That was something that was never lost on me. I was aware that my financial situation could have changed at any moment. 

The autonomy that I had with addressing my pet's medical needs didn't afford me having a casual attitude about it. In truth, quite the contrary—I feel that it kept my feet on the ground in terms of gauging what was happening, and made me very conscious about where my pet's limits (and my own) were in terms of medical intervention throughout their life. This was most important during their hospice and end-of-life. 

I had to constantly check in with myself: Just because I could afford the care, was I making the decision because it was mindful one for them, or was I doing so purely from an emotional standpoint? Being actively engaged in keeping an honest eye on any changes I noticed, checking in with myself/my loved ones/my vets about how I was feeling (and how everyone was feeling) about handling things helped me arrive where I needed to be with treatment options.

Sometimes forging ahead with treatment is a no-brainer. Other times, it's murky as Hell and overwhelming. There are also plenty of nuances in between. 

I did understand that at any time, I might hit a point when I wasn't able to consent to proceed with treatment due to financial constraints, or because the pet in question simply wouldn't tolerate it—truly a helpless feeling. In fact, both factors were the case with Silver, my 19 year-old cat, who passed this past summer. 

But one thing that I tried to keep in mind as we navigated this time of life is that medical intervention, medication and alternative therapies have limits, as do pets. (And so do people.)

One might discover that it's simply the end of the road, and continuing with treatment or supportive care isn't even an option. It can be a prompt from the pet—yes, I'm ready. And one shouldn't be ashamed to discover that can be coupled with their own ...I'm ready tooThe circumstance of deciding, after a decline, to have a pet helped along with their vet's assistance before they go into serious crisis would be the best thing is plausible. Perhaps the pet's safety while family is away at work and school is of considerable concern. Though veterinarians strive to make palliative and hospice care plans as simple and streamlined to carry out, the fact is that in some cases, they're not always something that a pet owner can manage—for many reasons. Sudden serious illnesses and accidents occur, and treatment costs can be prohibitive. Families that I've assisted during pet hospice and otherwise have faced these scenarios, and a couple of them are familiar in my own experience.

So, while keeping in mind that yes, while there are more treatment options and resources than ever that can be tapped into when it comes to our pets, there is a plethora of reasons why utilizing them isn't feasible. When the pet's best interest is at the center of a decision, there is no shame in that, nor should there be judgement from any angle.

With over 20 years of experience in pet care and the past 8 of those focused on animal hospice, Lorrie Shaw holds a certification in pet loss and grief companioning, is a Certified Fear Free Professional–pet sitter, and CXO of Telos Companion Animal Services, LLC. In April 2023, she graduated with honors from Animal Hospice Group’s certification program, earning her Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner credential. She can be found at lorrieshaw.com

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