Monday, September 19, 2011

How to determining a cat's quality of life

Eamon the cat is sleeping nicely in his bed

A lot has changed since I wrote on Friday. At that time, I thought I had three robust indoor cats. Now, I only have two cats that fit into that category. It leaves me with a lot of questions.

Late Friday night, Eamon had a sudden fit of lameness. He was crying and pawing at the ground, unable to get up, and was breathing quite heavily. After I checked him over and couldn't find any broken bones or obvious injuries, my husband and I took him to the emergency veterinarian. I was concerned that he had a condition called "saddle thrombus," where a cat throws a clot and it shuts off the supply of blood to the legs. It's painful and incurable. I thought we were taking him in to die.

He did not have saddle thrombus, thankfully, but he still could not walk at the emergency clinic. They ran blood work (inconclusive), and we chose to take him home. I still thought he was dying, and I didn't want him to die in the clinic.

The next morning, he was able to walk a bit but was still quite tired. We took him to his regular veterinarian for followup x-rays. At this point, I wasn't sure what to think. Did he have something terminal? Did he just hurt himself? I didn't know what to do. We took home some prednisone while we waited for the x-ray results to come back. I wanted the radiologist to give us complete information.

Today, we have the news we need. Eamon has arthritis in his back and some compressed spinal disks. It's likely that some spinal material sheared off and temporarily blocked blood flow to his legs. This condition, called fibrocartilaginous embolai, also can't be cured and it's possible it might happen again.

We follow up on Friday with our veterinarian. I have to determine what quality of life is for Eamon. He can walk, he can eat, he can cuddle, but he still seems slow and somehow off. Is this acceptable? Is it acceptable to give him weeks of this diminished life if the end is painful? When is it all too much?

I've heard a simple way to determine quality of life, and I've repeated it to friends before: Make a list of three things the pet loves to do. When the pet can no longer do two of those three things, it's time to go.

I am realizing this is harder to do than it seems.

My husband and I will be writing up Eamon's list this week. I'm just hoping we're making the right decisions.

If you're in this boat and you find that you absolutely cannot make a good decision, ask your veterinarian to help. Most vets will happily work with you to keep pain under control and help the pet stay mobile. And most will speak right up when they're out of treatment options and the pet is still painful or not moving.

Pet sitters, close family members and dear friends can also help, especially if they know the pet well. They might see symptoms you just don't see, and they might have the outsider perspective you need in order to make a decision that's right for your pet.

But in general, remember this: Any decision you make, if you do so thoughtfully, is bound to be the right one. Don't blame yourself or second guess or torture yourself. You know your pet. You know yourself. Just watch and listen. The answer will come.

I hope I find my answer soon.