Ask Your Veterinarian: What Would You Do?

Doc, What should I do?

This is a question that we, as veterinarians, are often asked when an owner is trying to make the “right” decision about their sick or injured pet.

Owners want us to help guide them in this decision-making process and we, as veterinary professionals, have an obligation to provide as much information as possible to aid in this sometimes gut-wrenching process. Owners want to give their pet every chance at a quality life, for their pet not to suffer either physically or emotionally and, at the same time, remain within their financial means.

As a veterinarian this is a very hard question to answer. We often have a very different perspective on treatment and surgical procedures and we, on a different level, are not paying the bill. We will try to separate the emotional aspect from the medical aspect: something that is not always easy to do. It is our responsibility to have very open and candid conversations with owners on procedures, the benefits of these procedures, as well as potential risks and, as best as possible, expected outcomes with recommended medical treatments or surgery.

Every owner and household will have very different expectations and conditions that will play into this overall decision. Many times, veterinarians are not aware of all those circumstances, unless the owner has openly shared those with us. For example, the dog who was recently diagnosed with cancer (lymphoma); he was an anniversary gift from the husband who recently (within the last 2 months) was killed in a car accident. Should we proceed with chemotherapy, or not? True story.  This circumstance presents a different level of attachment, as you can imagine, for treatment. By the way, it was decided to treat with chemotherapy and the patient did very well.

While this might sound like a political answer with no direct answer at all to the question, medicine and living bodies are sometimes not an exact science and can throw curve balls at us. Everyone needs to understand that sometimes this can unpredictably happen, both for the good and bad. It is always our goal as veterinarians to help guide you to make the right decision for you, but not actually make that decision.

It is always our goal to try to be realistic while providing the best possible positive outcome.

Recently, this was the case for an senior dog patient presented to our hospital for ‘slowing down and acting painful.’  While the owner was suspicious of age and arthritis, upon examination there was thought to be a mass palpated in the abdomen. Without going into a lot of detail, further diagnostic testing was done, and a mass was identified in the abdomen about the size of a large softball. With the history of the animal, and testing, there was a high likelihood that this mass would be malignant with a guarded-to-poor prognosis with a lesser chance of being something that could be surgically addressed with good outcome. Together, with open discussion, the decision was made to do an exploratory surgery. Ultimately, the spleen was removed and the mass was found to be non-malignant. The patient recovered completely and returned back to “normal.”

We would all hope for such a fantastic outcome if it were our own pet. However, the odds were not on the side of this outcome, which is why the answer to your question, “Doc, what would you do?” is not always black or white.

Please share your story in the comments below.

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