By: M. Michelle Nadon, www.c4panimalrescue.ca
You know that dreadful day when you get your geriatric pet in for a check up, and BAM! …s/he is diagnosed with a chronic disease? It could be congestive heart; or some form of organ or blood cancer. It could be degenerative joint disease, pyometra — or almost any other system compromise and/or organ dysfunction.
So you spend 15-30 minutes with your Vet, and s/he prescribes pharmaceutical treatment(s). Sometimes, if you’re lucky and they are comprehensive, they’ll offer some complimentary, alternative approaches or supports. Then, they send you home and expect you to report in if anything changes. But how do you know what to look for?
My strongest recommendation is to immediately book a “re-check” within a week or so. During the initial post-diagnosis period, you will come up with all kinds of questions you wished you’d asked, so write them down.
At home, you wonder…how much time do we have? How can I help my pet? What’s going to happen? My personal experience and knowledge has grown with each of my pets’ chronic diagnoses. I’ve found these to be good questions to ask:
- What is “level” of the disease, (usually on a scale of 1-5)?
- What is the trajectory? How does the disease play out; over what time frame?
- What are the success rates with prescribed interventions/meds? What outcomes are we hoping for?
- What are the full side effects of the medication? Do meds and their side effects lessen or increase over time?
- Are there alternative supports that can help set my pet up for greater success?
- Is my pet a candidate for hospice care, and if so, what does that look like?
- What are the “worsening signs” or “crisis signs” to watch for?
- What are other owners’ experiences of this disease, it’s individual path, and the medications involved?
- Is my Western Vet amenable to working in tandem with my Holistic Vet?
- What are my Vet’s “off hours” policies? Can we get access to staff outside of business hours by email or cell?
- How can I tell if my pet is in pain, and what degree of pain is involved? What’s the plan for managing pain?
- What are my pet’s current heart and respiration rates? Should I monitor them weekly or monthly? Should I monitor my pet’s weight? His/her temperature?
- In your Vet’s humble opinion, is it time to euthanize? Is it too soon, or, have you waited too long?
- *What is my Vet’s current assessment of my pet’s “*Quality of Life”?
*Dr. Alice Villalobos devised a standard “Quality of Life scale”, which is user-friendly, and provides pet parents with an opportunity to assess where their pet is “at”.https://pawspice.com/clients/17611/documents/QualityofLifeScale.pdf
I’ve found it can be helpful for each adult family member to write up their own assessment of their pet’s quality of life, on separate charts. Different family members can have differing opinions, based on their relationships, histories and observances of their pets. These scores can be discussed across family, as well as with your Veterinarian, to provide greater insight into your pet’s quality of life status.
Of course, it would be remiss not to mention prevention, which really should be your first line of defense! As with humans, many chronic illnesses can be traced back to diet, nutrition, life-long exercise patterns, lifestyle and emotional stability (or not). A chronic disease, in my humble experience and opinion, is almost always the result of long-standing compromise(s) in any/all of the above. If you’re unfortunate enough to get that chronic disease diagnosis, remember that there are many angles you can explore to increase your pet’s comfort and quality of life.