Veterinarians believe that too many pets are kept alive when it is not the most humane decision.
There have never been so many alternatives for treating sick pets, from open-heart surgery on a snake to chemotherapy for your dog. However, veterinarians warn that too many pet owners are willing to pay a lot of money to keep their pets alive, even if it isn't necessarily the most humane option.
Pet owners are becoming more aware of the more advanced and complex surgical and medical treatments that pets can undergo thanks to shows like Channel 4's Supervet and news articles like Goldie the pufferfish's tooth surgery.
While veterinary science has advanced significantly in recent years, allowing many dogs to live longer and better lives, veterinarians caution that prolonging an animal's life at all costs is not always the best decision for them, and can result in thousands of pounds in bills for their owners.
Danny Chambers, a Hampshire vet who hosts a BBC Radio Devon phone-in, said: There are some cases when euthanasia would be right to relieve the suffering for the animal's wellbeing. There is an ethical discussion to be addressed if you're going to put them through a fairly sophisticated procedure with a long recovery period and potential consequences.
Chambers used the example of someone going through chemotherapy. Humans can rationalize suffering as a method of getting healthier, spending time with family, or doing things they've always wanted to do, despite the fact that it's a long and painful process. Animals have no desire to live a long life; they don't wish to see Christmas or someone's birthday, or to grow older by ten years. They only want to be happy on a daily basis.
Most veterinarians can provide a list of three to five treatment alternatives, he said, adding that owners should not feel obligated to choose the most expensive option if they can't afford it, especially because it isn't always the greatest for the animal's health.
I hope people don't feel bad about not being able to afford these advanced operations because, in reality, dogs are content when given the greatest care possible.
Part of the reason for heightened expectations from owners, according to Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor at the University of Winchester, is that they are increasingly perceiving their animals as vital members of their houses and families.
People were often unaware of the price of some of the most modern medical and surgical procedures because they were treated for free on the NHS, he continued, especially without pet insurance. "These can be unexpectedly costly, even if they represent excellent value when compared to the price of medical care for individuals."
Whereas previously people would consider complex treatments only for dogs and cats, Sean McCormack, a vet in Surrey who writes a newspaper advice column, is seeing an increase in demand from people who have developed a close emotional bond" with more unusual pets such as turtles, rabbits, and snakes.
He's done open-heart surgery on a snake, spayed a gecko, removed a bladder stone from an iguana, and pinned, plated, and repaired broken wings on birds.
Readers who responded to a Guardian appeal for stories about complicated procedures for their pets and the hundreds of pounds they spent on them recounted their experiences, with many believing it was worth it to keep their beloved pets alive.
At the beach, Nambo uses a wheeled mobility aid.
Nambo suffers from the canine version of motor neuron disease.
Lisa Kucyk of Swansea put her dog Nambo's veterinary expenditures at up to £20,000. Before being diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, the canine version of motor neuron disease, he underwent four procedures on his legs, including damage to his cruciate ligament, patella, and cartilage. He currently receives physiotherapy, acupuncture, and laser therapy on a weekly basis.
Kucyk claimed that she had purchased the highest level of insurance for Nambo at the time, but that she still had to tap into her savings to cover his final two operations, which cost £3,000 each.
Nambo is now paralyzed, and Kucyk can keep him alive while working from home, but she knows her physio will notify her when his quality of life has deteriorated to the point when euthanasia is necessary.
The expenditures and care, according to Kucyk, were well worth it: He's a member of our family, and to be honest, I prefer my dog over most people.To me, he is everything.
Owners should be assured, according to Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association, that vets always do a quality-of-life evaluation and will advise on the health and welfare implications as well as the expenditures involved.
They may recommend euthanasia in some situations if an animal's quality of life is poor, or if a treatment option will cause them a lot of pain and suffering or have a low likelihood of success, she explained. These are difficult conversations that take a toll on everyone involved emotionally.
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