Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Monday, October 25, 2010

Justly, a cat.

On Saturday I saw two cats in need of help and was able to help only one of them. The owner of the other cat was entirely unprepared for the financial reality of treating a sick cat in our day and age. I highly suspected the cat had pancreatitis with the attending host of problems that afflict its digestive tract, and she was not going to get better without aggressive measures. There was no guarantee that the cat would fully recover after a hospitalization on fluids and IV medications, which already was too much in financial terms. Cats are not cars and we are not mechanics, we don't "fix" living beings. Most definitely she would need some degree of followup treatment, at least monitoring, even if it was only pancreatitis (which it rarely is). As a veterinarian I would be careless to offer anything less. As a person who lives in the real world I cannot possibly criticize people for refusing to put a cat through these measures, whether for financial or emotional reasons. To my credit - or shame - I was not about to blame the owner for deciding on euthanasia, had no impulse to do so. Part of me agreed with her. And to the owner's credit, she did not suggest taking the cat home to see if it would get better by itself. She understood very well that it would not.
In my everyday work there is a lack of middle ground between two extremes: doing everything possible for an animal with a serious condition, and hearing "it's just a cat." We seem to have forgotten to say "it is a cat." Not a fur person, not a feline patient, but an animal, with all the dignity of being one. And their dignity may well preclude the involved, often invasive, and undoubtedly troubling (to the cat) measures we are trained to take. We do not know what is going through the animal's mind in the period of medical treatment and recovery - or deferring imminent death, - and tend to forget that they cannot possibly understand that "it's all for their own good." Certainly the animal is alarmed, anxious, and confused - unless it's so ill that indifference and withdrawal have set in.
The fact that we've forgotten to say "it's a cat" was brought home to me in a much lighter context on the same day. Our receptionist has several cats, and one is an avid hunter. Her daughter called to report that the cat had likely eaten a squirrel: she brought home the head and feet, with the rest of the squirrel missing and presumed ingested. The receptionist asked me with a good deal of alarm: what should they do? I said, nothing can or needs to be done now besides keeping a good eye on the cat's appetite and comportment. I thought, how did we arrive at a point when a cat's normal behaviour is pounced on as a potential cause for medical intervention?

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