As an Oncology specialist, I am frequently asked how cancer treatments will affect the quality of life for the dogs and cats in my care at The Animal Medical Center. I give these discussions with my clients as much time and attention as they need because I know my explanation will impact the pet owners’ decisions to treat their pets for cancer.
Quality of life is an important topic for most veterinarians and frequently discussed at meetings and professional seminars. It has been the topic of various research studies. For example, veterinary cardiologists studied quality of life in cats with heart disease as perceived by cat owners.
For the cat owners who took part in this study, appetite, litter box habits and sleep patterns were important markers of quality of life in their cat. And, these owners stated they would trade longevity for an improved quality of life for their pet with heart disease.
The study also showed that illness does not only impact the quality of life of the sick pet. Having a sick cat increased the owner’s stress with an increasing number of medications prescribed by the veterinarian.
Making the decision to amputate a pet’s limb, whether for an irreparable fracture or cancer, is another example of a wrenching experience for all pet owners and where the discussion of quality of life is inevitable. A recent study of cats undergoing amputation found a normal quality of life following amputation in nearly 90% of cats.
Dog owners feel the same way about their dog’s quality of life following amputation.
What, then, is the definition of quality of life for your pet? Is there a universal answer? Unfortunately not. Every pet owner has his or her own definition of quality of life for his or her pet. My clients have shown me through the love of their cats and dogs, the knowledge and understanding of their pets’ personalities how they have answered these difficult quality of life questions. The following video, photographs and one endearing text message illustrates how pet owners interpret their pets’ quality of life.
Dakota likes to fish. When his cancer relapsed, and he needed to start chemotherapy again, quality of life came up in our discussions. Here is a video of him fishing shortly after he restarted chemotherapy. As long as he can fish, his family knows he has a good quality of life.
Argos, like his mythical namesake, had superior tracking skills, especially for ducks. In this photo, Argos appears to be more successful at his chosen sport than Dakota! To maintain a high quality of life for Argos, his cancer treatments were scheduled around duck hunting season and, like Dakota, he could still have fun while being treated for cancer.
Penny loves to romp in the Maine woods in the summer. It is her break from the heat and humidity we New Yorkers suffer from in the summer. This past summer, her cancer treatments were seamlessly transferred to a Maine-based veterinary specialist for her vacation in order to maintain both quality of life and remission.
And finally, a text message from an owner who was worried quality of life was waning:
“He played sock today and trotted around with a pair in his mouth. He’s back to himself.”
I think that is what quality of life is: being yourself and doing the things you love to do. I am sure this is true for both man and beast.
This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.
For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.