Is Vet Care Worth It For an Old Cat?

It was supposed to be just another semiannual wellness exam and blood test or my 17-year-old cat, Siouxsie. Other than some arthritis, I had no reason to believe she was in bad health. After all — prior blood work had all come back normal, and she hadn’t lost any weight or expressed any troubling symptoms.

But after Dr. Brandon looked in Siouxsie’s mouth and said that the amount of demineralization of her teeth was what she’d expect in a cat three years older, I got concerned.

When the blood test results came back, Doctor B told me that there were signs of early-stage kidney disease, which we expected, but the results also suggested that she may be hyperthyroid. For more conclusive results, she recommended a sophisticated blood test to determine whether she needed treatment.

A couple of days later, the verdict came in. “She’s definitely hyperthyroid,” Dr. Brandon wrote in her email to me. The next question became what to do about it.

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There are three treatment options for hyperthyroidism: medication, surgery, and radioactive iodine therapy. In surgery, the thyroid gland is removed and therefore (at least in theory) the hyperthyroidism is, too. But the risk of anesthesia in a geriatric cat with impaired kidney function, among other issues, led me to rule out surgery.

Medication, I’m familiar with. Some of the cats at the shelter where I used to volunteer were hyperthyroid, and they got methimazole to treat the disease. Siouxsie is pretty good about taking medicine and I’m good at giving it, but I still had some concerns.

Would it be comfortable for my arthritic kitty to have me popping a pill in her mouth every day? Would giving meds every day for years harm the bond between us? The potential side effects of methimazole can include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, skin problems, and joint and muscle pain. Would the cure be worse than the disease?

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In radioactive iodine therapy, a tiny amount of Iodine-131 is injected under the skin, where it travels to the thyroid gland and is absorbed by the cells producing too much thyroid hormone. It kills the hyperactive cells and leaves normal tissue intact. I would have to drop Siouxsie off at the hospital in the morning for the injection, after which she’d have to stay at the clinic for three days or so. I wouldn’t be able to visit her because state regulations forbid laypeople from visiting patients in the radiation ward, and I wouldn’t even be able to send blankets or toys with her because they’d have to be discarded as radioactive waste. But once the treatment is over, the disease is gone.

Although this would be stressful for both of us, I believe it’s the best option in the long term.

It is, of course, expensive: At the clinic here in Seattle, the cost is around $1,000. Although I have insurance for my other cats, Thomas and Bella, Siouxsie is too old to enroll in pet insurance, so that money is going to come out of my pocket. But I’m okay with that: Siouxsie’s been my pal since she was a six-week-old kitten, and as long as the treatment will provide a good quality of life in the long term, I’m happy to do what I have to do to make it happen.

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Some people don’t understand this, though. One person I talked to about doing I-131 therapy for Siouxsie told me, “JaneA, just think it over. That’s a lot of money, and Siouxsie’s really old. I know you love her, but …”

I said, “I understand your concerns, and I’m going to think very carefully about what to do. But at the same time, Siouxsie’s not showing any signs that she’s gonna shuffle off her mortal coil any time soon.”

But I kinda don’t understand. Yes, Siouxsie is very old. At age 17, she’s the equivalent of an 86-year-old person. And yes, it will be a financial sacrifice for me. On the other hand, Siouxsie is in good spirits, her appetite is good, and she deserves any vet treatment that can keep her happy and healthy.

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I just wish more people got that and didn’t instantly go to “why the hell are you spending that kind of money on a cat that’s probably going to die soon anyway?”

If Dr. Brandon told me that our time together is probably going to be short enough that there’s not much point in treatment, I’d listen to her. If I didn’t trust Dr. Brandon to be honest with me, even if it weren’t in her best financial interest to do so, she wouldn’t be my vet.

Ultimately, I want what’s best for Siouxsie, not what’s best for my wallet … or what’s best for my ego.

What do you think? Am I crazy for being willing to spend this kind of money on my cat? Have you done I-131 treatment for your cat? What do you wish you’d known before you made the decision? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Grey cat. Sunrise. by Shutterstock

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This post was written by JaneA Kelley, regular contributor to Catster Magazine.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Bea W.
Bea Wilson3 years ago

If I had the finances, absolutely! I send love and prayers for Siouxsie.

Marion Zerrenthin

Is this a trick questions it's like asking should, healthcare be provided to old people?
The answer of course is YES.
Animals are for life; and just like people they will likely require more vet care as they get older. If anyone is not prepared for these costs or doesn't want to spend the money, they should NOT have an animal.

Bryn Del Mano
Bryn Del Mano3 years ago

A number of people have voiced the opinion that they wouldn't hesitate to seek medical care for an elderly relative, so why not their elderly pet? I agree with that sentiment.
Recently, when questioned why I spent so much money on an elderly stray cat (that adopted me), I said, "Yes, it was a financial hardship, but it would've come down to this, 'Sorry kitty, you have to die because I'm unwilling to spend the money.' That's not in my code of ethics." It's important to step up and do the right thing in this life.

Susanne P.
Susanne P3 years ago

There's only ONE answer to this question: YES!

But each decision must be made on the individual case.

Kate R.
Past Member 3 years ago

All the time they're likely to continue in a decent quality of life then you have the responsibility to give them whatever care they need. There's no reason why Siouxie shouldn't be around for a few years yet providing she's generally fit & healthy. If your thousand dollars gains you an extra year or two with her, it will be an absolute bargain!

Sarah W.
Sarah W3 years ago

There is nothing wrong with spending that amount on your cat. There are a lot of people who will do anything for their pets. I feel, as long as they are happy, comfortable and have a good quality of life, go with treatment. I would begin to question treatments if the animal is showing signs that they are suffering and we want to keep them around for selfish reasons, but that's not the case here.

Paula Powers
Paula Powers3 years ago

If it will help your cat and you can afford to do it why wouldn't you? Cats can live a really long time now if they are kept inside-I would do anything to help my old cat who died last July-I spent a lot of money on him with vets, meds, blood tests and the like and would do it all again in a heartbeat. They are like our children why wouldn't we care for them and do all we can for them until we can't anymore and they pass on?

Anne K.
Anne K3 years ago

Thank you!

Pamela W.
Pamela W3 years ago

Yes !!! Of course it is worth it !!! Only once have I hesitated about treatment for one of my FAMILY MEMBER animals ... and the money did NOT come into the question. Sammy was 12 and losing both appetite and a great deal of weight - he was diagnosed diabetic and would need daily insulin. As he was a (frequently wandering) outdoor cat, I was worried about what could happen if he didn't come home "in time" for his medication - the vet had told me the risks. He was kept at the vet's overnight, on a drip, and I was in a turmoil - what to do ?? The following day I phoned for his progress report, only to be told he had suffered a serious crisis during the night and the vet had made the decision for me. I didn't get the chance to say "Goodbye" to Sammy but I know my vet did what was right, so he didn't suffer any more. When I went to pick him up (so I could take him home and bury him there) I was so touched - my wonderful vet had curled him up, as if he was asleep, and placed him carefully back in his basket. I've used the same vet's practice for the past 30 years and would never change, despite there being a new one much nearer to where I live.