Doing the Right Thing for Gus

Since the holidays our handsome tabby cat, Gus, has been acting lethargic and spends most of his time sleeping next to the bedroom heating duct.

Gus is 11-years old which is considered old for a cat. Still, I’ve had cats that have lived to the age of 17 doing quite well until the last year. During his last check up, Gus was doing well…a little chubby…but all his vitals were good. As an older cat, Gus was a quieter than our year-old Lily, who still has lots kittenish energy. Nonetheless, he still enjoyed hanging out with us, playing with Lily, and greeting guests at the door. Gus has always been very friendly for a cat. So friendly we often joke that he’s the “cat who thinks he’s a dog.”

The vet who checked Gus said his apparent vitals looked fine with the exception of his weight loss. Gus had lost nearly 2-pounds since his last exam. Two pounds is a lot for a cat, especially for a cat like Gus who loves his meal times.

The vet also took blood and urine samples to check for common health issues common in older cats such as diabetes and kidney disease.

Although the blood work showed abnormalities, the results weren’t conclusive. His kidneys were working and his blood sugar was normal so we could rule out diabetes and kidney disease. The vet suggested an ultrasound as the next step. Older cats can develop pancreatitis, cancer, and GI tract masses that can be detected using an ultrasound.

An ultrasound for Gus would cost slightly over $400 and many people would schedule one without a second thought.

But I found myself hesitating and told the vet I’d talk it over with my family.

Why my hesitation?

Well, for one thing, $400 is a lot of money. There are a lot of people who consider their dogs and cats to be family members and wouldn’t hesitate to take the next step.

I love my cats a great deal. They are beloved members of our household. But I can’t get past a few things:

  • Gus can’t speak for himself. I’ve noticed that when animals are ill they do what they need to do. They seem to have an instinctive wisdom that humans have lost touch with. My sense of Gus is he wants to be left alone.
  • More troubling to me is the slippery slope presented by advanced treatment options. Diagnostics might help us find something treatable but then again they may not. At what point do we, my family and I, say “we’re going to stop here?”

An alternative option our vet offered is to put Gus on a course of wide-spectrum antibiotics in case the problem is an infection. I’m reluctant to do this because Gus is an indoor cat and I’m not clear how he would have been exposed to something that would cause these symptoms.

Ultimately, I have only my own values to work with here. At this moment I don’t know the possible diagnostic conclusions from an ultrasound nor do I know treatment options and how they would affect the possible length of Gus’ life and the quality of his life.


Advanced medical diagnostics and treatments for pets offer the gift of saving the life of a pet and improving a pet’s quality of life. But it also means we have to make painful decisions when the choice is not an automatic “yes.”


Filed under Compassion

2 Responses to Doing the Right Thing for Gus

  1. Ann

    My heart goes out to Al of you. Pets put all of their trust in the humans who care for them, but as you point out, they cannot express their wishes to us. I think most of us with elderly loved ones have faced a similar anguish. When is the treatment causing more harm than good? To what lengths do we go to prolong the inevitable?

    It’s one of those times where one must make the decision that seems best (or least bad) at the time with the information available and refuse to second guess or look back in guilt.

    I wish the best for all of you.

    • JazzyJ

      Thanks for your comment, Ann. They are comforting to me.

      Gus is doing better. He’s eating more and has more energy. This morning he hopped up on our bed to visit with me. His loud purring has been my favorite alarm clock for years.

      I’m not speculating. Just enjoying him each day he is with us. And if things change we’ll deal.

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