Have you ever had trouble following your vet’s advice?
Earlier this year, I diagnosed Ninja, a 14 year old cat, with an overactive thyroid.
This caused Ninja to experience profound weight loss, a ravenous appetite, frequent vomiting, and a rapid heartbeat.
Fortunately, there are several treatments available to manage the condition.
Ninja’s owner considered all of the options and decided that the best option for her and Ninja was daily oral medication.
I demonstrated how to administer the tablet to Ninja while he was sitting on my consultation table.
He swallowed the pill and returned to his cat carrier.
But during his check-up six weeks later, Ninja’s health had deteriorated. He had lost even more weight, ate everything he saw and vomited profusely.
Then came the bombshell: In the weeks since their last visit, Ninja’s owner hadn’t given Ninja a single tablet. In fact, she had never given a cat pills in her life.
And Ninja wasn’t going to let her start with him.
For all of his charm in the vet hospital, Ninja was a bit of a real-life ninja at home, physically resisting his owner’s attempts to hold him back in order to give him the tablets.
Ninja’s owner adored her and didn’t want to cause her cat unnecessary distress.
She also revealed that she didn’t want to admit her reservations about giving Ninja pills, especially when he had been so submissive in the consulting room.
When we looked at published scenarios describing ethical challenges faced by veterinary teams, one of the most common were situations where clients did not follow instructions or follow recommendations.
These situations can prolong or even worsen the disease and associated animal suffering.
Customers and members of the veterinary team can become frustrated with disappointing results.
However, if we know the challenges and potential obstacles (like Ninja’s habit of struggling, spitting pills, or just running away when it’s time for meds), we can find workarounds.
For animals that are difficult to care for at home, there may be alternative treatments. For example, cats with an overactive thyroid can be treated with radioactive iodine. This safe and effective treatment is initially more expensive, but is associated with better long-term results for cats with thyroid disease and may eliminate the need for tablets.
Alternatively, we can prescribe a transdermal cream which is applied to the skin inside Ninja’s ears twice a day.
For animals that are difficult to take in tablets, there may be long-acting injections, oral fluids, or even the ability to mix the drug into a flavored suspension.
If we know what the challenges are, we can usually find a creative solution.
For example, there are difficult-to-care animals that require short-term daily medication, or animals that require strict post-operative containment.
Short-term boarding at a veterinary facility for the duration of treatment can help ensure they are treated while providing relief to their owners.
If you can anticipate any obstacles to following the advice – whether you don’t agree with them or – like the owner of Ninja – don’t think your pet will tolerate it – let your veterinarian team know.
We may be able to provide you with additional information, additional options, or an alternative plan that is better for you and your pet. The plan must work for everyone.
Since starting the transdermal treatment, Ninja has gained weight and stopped vomiting. Her condition is well managed for now. All without taking tablets.
Quain A, Neighborhood MP, Mullan S. What would you do? Types of difficult ethical situations described in vignettes published in veterinary literature from 1990 to 2020. Veterinary sciences 2022; 9: 2. doi.org/10.3390/vetsci9010002
Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a senior lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practicing veterinarian.