From the day you brought your pet home, you have supported and cared for them, and as they have aged, the way you care for them has likely evolved. Aging is a natural process, and with the right care and attention, senior pets can continue to lead fulfilling lives. However, to prevent them from unnecessary suffering at the end of their life, you must also determine if your senior pet is still experiencing a good quality of life (QOL). Unfortunately, pets do not live forever, and knowing how to assess your pet’s QOL is important as they enter their senior years. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team explains how to use a QOL scale to help guide you in assessing your senior pet’s health, comfort, and happiness. 

Conditions that can decrease your senior pet’s quality of life

Aging increases your pet’s susceptibility to age-related health conditions that can diminish their QOL. These conditions commonly include:

  • Arthritis — This common degenerative disease causes cartilage deterioration inside the joint, causing pain and decreased mobility.
  • Dental disease — Dental disease is common in older pets and can be extremely painful, leading to appetite loss and other serious health problems.
  • Vision and hearing loss — Age-related hearing or vision loss can make your pet’s interactions with their environment difficult, which can cause them stress and anxiety.
  • Kidney disease — Chronic kidney disease (CKD) inhibits the body’s ability to filter biological waste from the blood, causing an affected pet to feel ill and nauseated. 
  • Cancer — Cancer is the most frequent cause of death in pets older than middle age, and these conditions can significantly decrease their QOL.

When diseases are identified in the earliest stages, your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers veterinarian can treat your pet before the problem progresses. Senior pets require closer monitoring, needing examinations at least every six months.

How to assess your senior pet’s quality of life

You love your pet, and you do not want them to suffer. However, objectively assessing your pet’s QOL can be difficult. A QOL scale is a valuable tool that provides a systematic way to evaluate your pet’s wellbeing and helps you make difficult decisions regarding their end-of-life care. One commonly used scale is the HHHHHMM scale, created by Alice Villalobos, DVM, FNAP. This scale focuses on these seven key factors:

  • Hurt — Is your pet in pain? Does your pet need medication to control their pain? Does your pet’s medication adequately control their pain? Can you administer your pet’s medications as frequently as necessary?
  • Hunger — Is your pet eating enough to maintain adequate nutrition? Does hand feeding your pet help encourage eating? Does your pet need a feeding tube and, if so, can you maintain the tube?
  • Hydration — Is your pet drinking enough to maintain adequate hydration? Does your pet have a slow skin tent or tacky mucous membranes, indicating dehydration? Are you able to administer subcutaneous fluids if necessary?
  • Hygiene — Is your pet able to groom themself? If they have mobility issues, are you able to groom your pet properly, especially after they eliminate?
  • Happiness — Does your pet still enjoy activities they once loved? Do they engage with family members? Does your pet seem depressed, anxious, or afraid?
  • Mobility — How well can your pet move around? Are they still able to go for walks, use the litter box, or climb stairs?
  • More good days than bad — This is a general gauge of your pet’s overall QOL. If your pet has more bad days than good, their QOL is compromised.

End-of-life care for senior pets

When your pet’s QOL is diminishing and treatments aren’t effective, you may wonder what to do next. If you’re uncertain about your pet’s health, comfort, or wellbeing, consult your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers veterinarian. End-of-life decision-making is complex, emotional, and confusing, but your veterinarian can provide guidance, clarity, and support so you don’t have to go through the process alone. Ask your veterinarian about your pet’s end-of-life care options, because knowing what is available (e.g., hospice care, pain management) and understanding the gentle euthanasia process will help you feel more in control and at peace. 

Caring for your senior pet by regularly assessing their QOL helps ensure they remain happy and comfortable for as long as possible. If you are concerned about your pet’s QOL, contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team to help determine the best course of action.