If you own a senior pet or a pet who has been diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, you have probably heard your veterinarian use the phrase, “quality of life,” but you may still have questions about the meaning of these words, and how you can evaluate your pet’s overall comfort and wellbeing. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves team explains how to assess your senior pet’s quality of life (QOL) to ensure their comfort, and to help you make difficult end-of-life decisions when necessary.
Here are three ways to assess your senior pet’s QOL:
#1: Learn about the conditions that can affect your pet’s quality of life
At some point, most senior pets develop one or more health conditions that eventually get worse. Health conditions that can negatively affect a senior pet’s QOL include:
- Cancer — Risk of all cancer types increases with age. Cancer is the leading cause of death in senior pets.
- Arthritis — Many senior pets have arthritic joints that cause severe pain and decreased mobility.
- Degenerative kidney disease — Degenerative kidney disease, where the kidneys no longer can filter biological waste from the blood, leads to irreversible kidney damage.
- Cognitive dysfunction — Like people, a pet’s cognitive function often declines with age and leads to memory loss, confusion, and increased anxiety.
#2: Identify pain in your pet
Pain can negatively impact your pet’s quality of life, but can be difficult to identify because dogs and cats rarely vocalize or show obvious discomfort until the pain is severe. Learning to identify common behaviors of a painful pet can alert you to potential problems earlier, and you can seek veterinary care to relieve your pet’s discomfort sooner. The following behaviors may indicate a painful pet:
- Shifting weight from a limb while standing
- Yelping or biting when a specific body area is touched
- Panting and trembling
- Decreased appetite
- Increased agitation
Pain can often be managed with medical interventions and therapy, so contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves team if you suspect your pet is suffering. Once your pet’s pain can no longer be adequately managed, their QOL will diminish quickly, and you may need to consider humanely ending their suffering.
#3: Evaluate your pet with a quality of life scale
While pain is an important consideration when evaluating your senior pet’s QOL, you must also evaluate other factors, because the absence of pain does not always imply a good QOL, which includes basic standards of health, comfort, and happiness. Regular QOL assessments can ensure your senior pet is comfortable, happy, and pain-free, and can help you identify signs that your pet’s emotional or physical health is deteriorating. Then, you can work with your veterinarian to assess if and how treatment could increase their QOL.
A veterinary oncologist developed a QOL scale to help pet owners determine if their pet’s QOL was acceptable. The scale helps measure essential elements key for a happy, healthy pet that include:
- Breathing — Few things feel worse than being unable to breathe properly. You should evaluate your pet for labored breathing—are they struggling or making an obvious effort to draw in a breath? Are they easily fatigued, or low-energy? Do they take a long time to settle down and catch their breath after the slightest exertion? Do they cough constantly or uncontrollably? Breathing properly is essential to a pet’s QOL.
- Hunger — A decreased appetite often signals an underlying health problem and leads to decreased energy, weight loss, and weakness. Appetite stimulants, tube-feeding, or delivering nutrients by syringe can help your pet, but when they lose all interest in food or are in too much pain to eat, they are no longer taking in enough nutrition to maintain bodily processes, and their QOL will suffer.
- Hydration — Hydration is essential to a pet’s QOL. If your pet is dehydrated, fluid administered under the skin can help, but is not a long-term solution. Is your pet able to hold down water, or are they vomiting and unable to stay adequately hydrated? A dehydrated pet is not enjoying a good QOL.
- Hygiene — Appropriate hygiene prevents skin irritation and infection, but pets who lack mobility may not groom themselves properly and have accidents when relieving themselves. Can your pet keep themselves clean? Can you help them keep clean?
- Mobility — A pet’s mobility decreases with age, but slings, harnesses, wheel carts, and wagons can help them to continue to move around. Mobility and hygiene go together, and an immobile pet can be a challenge or impossible to keep clean.
- Happiness — In addition to health concerns, you want your pet to enjoy life. Do they express joy and interest in certain activities, and in interactions with you and your family? Is your pet frequently stressed, anxious, or fearful?
- More good days than bad — The ultimate QOL assessment is good versus bad days. When your pet’s bad days outnumber their good days, you likely need to make end-of-life decisions.
We know that evaluating your pet‘s overall wellbeing is not easy, especially when you understand what must follow if they lack a good QOL. However, the QOL scale is a powerful tool that can help you be objective about your pet’s future. If you are concerned about your pet’s QOL, contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves team for help in evaluating your pet. We will provide you and your pet with our ongoing support.