What I learned about quality of life and hospice care
by Jennifer Gidley, Den Herder Veterinary Hospital
Very recently, I had to make the tough decision to help my five year old cat Gizmo cross the rainbow bridge. Since he was a kitten, he had never been healthy. He was a viral cat who suffered from feline resorptive lesions and had irritable bowel disease on top of that. He chronically vomited and hit a point when he started dramatically losing weight until severely underweight. I switched him to a high calorie food, giving him twice the amount of food in a day a typical cat his size should get, yet he only gained a couple of ounces in a year.
Due to his health problems, I frequently brought him to the office for examinations, fluids, and treatment. Over the years, we tried multiple medications in hopes of alleviating his symptoms, but he didn’t respond as hoped. At one point, he was on four medications at once and was getting four feedings a day, yet he still did not improve.
I had always known that, with all his health problems, each day with him was a gift and I wasn’t guaranteed he would have a long life with me. Due to the chronic nature of his illnesses, he’d have both good days and bad days. I continually had to evaluate his quality of life on a month-by-month, week-by-week, and even day-by-day basis. As long as he was still a happy cat and had more good or at least neutral days than bad ones, I was willing to keep up the fight. I didn’t want to selfishly prolong his suffering when the time came, though.
In the last months, Gizmo came down with recurrent throat infections and bouts of pneumonia. He dropped to his lowest weight ever, and he became more lethargic than normal. He was constantly cold and spent much of his time next to heat vents trying to get warm. He began walking around crying in pained tones after meals. We had hit a point where we had exhausted our options in terms of what could be done medically for him. At this point, my husband and I consulted with the doctors and concluded that it was in Gizmo’s best interest to let him go.
It was a heartbreaking decision to have to make, but we knew in good conscience we couldn’t make Gizmo endure such a low quality of life. One might wonder, given his young death, was all the hard work over the years worth it? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. While we didn’t get many years with him, my husband and I made the most of the years we did have with Gizmo.
This article was written by Jennifer Gidley, former staff at Den Herder Veterinary Hospital. She and her husband Chris are pet parents to Baxter, Sasha, and Tess. They have had a wide variety of critters over the years including a hedgehog, rabbits, mice, and a hamster.