Medical Ethics: Do Younger Cats Deserve Money for Vet Care More than Older Ones?


To be honest, I never gave the medical ethics issue of how money should be allocated for a cat a second thought until recently. I have had several older cats pass on in the past three years. I, perhaps like many of you, have always been willing to do whatever I could for that older cat, as long as she wasn’t suffering. I have worked within our household’s means to try and make my cat’s last days as good as possible. I have, on some occasions, probably kept things going too long. But what I’ll call the “biological” argument never entered my mind, until I had a conversation with my veterinarian.

We were discussing the care of one of my older, terminally ill cats (she had inoperable cancer and I didn’t have the means to pursue chemo or radiation). My vet is very compassionate, yet practical. The vet would probably err on the conservative (early) side when deciding to put an animal down. And that’s not always a bad thing. I probably need a practical person to balance my very emotional outlook in these situations.

And then, my vet gently suggested that resources that were used in cases like this might perhaps be better directed at younger cats. He was talking in generalities, and not necessarily commenting on my case directly, but I got the idea. Truly, I had never considered it before. Was a younger cat more deserving or needing of treatment? Were a particular amount of finite resources (my money, for example!) better spent or saved for a younger cat who might have more life ahead of him or her? Such were the ethics that I was suddenly faced with.

I went home and rehashed the discussion with my husband. My husband is a biologist, and his scientific practicality suddenly entered the picture. He completely understood where the vet was coming from. My husband said, “Yes, it’s the biological argument.” Something like survival of the fittest. In a completely scientific approach, it makes sense to allocate resources to the younger and healthier portion of the population.

But … really?

We’ve read dystopian novels or seen movies where the world ends, and the young, procreating part of the population is saved above all else — and all others. Still, with our ability to extend life (human and otherwise) and our emotional ties, the issue (at least, for me) isn’t always so clear cut. Every case will be different.

The biological argument when you have one cat

If you have one cat, maybe your choices are easier, maybe not. We all have finite resources. Would you forgo some other expenditure so that you could spend money on your cat’s treatment? I have. Would you take from your own health expenditures to spend money for your cat’s health? I don’t think I’ve ever been faced with this decision, but I can say that I probably spend more time and attention dealing with their health than I do with my own. If you have one cat, maybe you don’t need to decide where to allocate resources among cats, but you’ve probably still faced difficult decisions about whether to (or whether you’re able to) pursue care or not.

Even if a person only had one cat, and that was an older cat, and terminally ill, my vet or others people might ponder whether funds might be better spent rescuing or adopting a younger cat with a (hopefully) long life ahead of them. So many cats are in need. It’s a sticky question — what do we do?

The biological argument when you have more than one cat

These decisions may seem more immediate if you have more than one cat. How do we decide how much care to give one cat? How do we allocate finite resources among all our pets to give them the best care throughout their lives? I wish I had answers.

The discussion with my vet did open my eyes. While I still err on the side of not holding back when it comes to helping my older cats, I appreciated this new perspective on the issue. It’s probably not so new, but it made me think twice.

What do you think? Have you been in this situation? How do you allocate resources to care for your cats, and does age or need enter into the picture? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of a short story collection about people and place. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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