Assessing Your Senior Pet’s Quality of Life

As pets age, they require more frequent care and attention. As a devoted pet owner, you willingly meet this need, assisting in their comfort, health, and mobility. Unfortunately, the time will come when medications and diligent caretaking aren’t enough to suppress your pet’s illness or pain—then, you will have to make a difficult decision whether to end their unnecessary suffering.

Measuring your senior pet’s quality of life (QOL) can help you objectively assess their physical and emotional health, and will allow you to make considerate and compassionate care decisions about your beloved pet’s final months, weeks, and days. 

Defining quality of life for pets

The popular phrase “quality over quantity” reminds us that what matters is the caliber—not the volume. And, for their pets, owners must imagine their pets achieving an ideal state of being, rather than a chronological age. QOL is a close examination of your pet’s emotional and physical wellbeing and the external care that they need to maintain their level of living. When QOL is assessed as adequate or better, care efforts are effective and worthwhile, but if pets are struggling despite every attempted intervention, they are suffering and no longer enjoying life. At that point, humane euthanasia is the kindest option to liberate a pet from their pain. 

When to begin measuring your senior pet’s quality of life

Many pet owners do not turn to QOL assessments until end-of-life decisions are necessary, but these tools can be used much earlier. Village Veterinary Hospital recommends quarterly QOL assessments for healthy senior pets, and bi-monthly or monthly check-ins for those who are chronically or terminally ill. By tracking your pet’s results over time, you can identify—and potentially address—small changes before they become irreversible problems.

5 ways to evaluate your senior pet’s quality of life

Depending on your personal beliefs and close knowledge of your pet, your QOL definition for your pet may be entirely individual. Fortunately, many assessment tools and concepts are available to suit every need, from data-driven to free-form. These can be sampled or combined to achieve the best, most reliable assessment of your pet and their lifestyle.

  • Fillable QOL scales — QOL scales ask you to assign a numerical score to your pet’s daily activities and habits, and then to tally the number to determine their quality of life. We recommend the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale, which features seven assessment points, including:
    • Hurt — Pain and anxiety
    • Hunger — Appetite and feeding patterns
    • Hydration — Thirst or dehydration
    • Hygiene — Grooming, cleanliness, and skin health
    • Happiness — Mood, responsiveness to surroundings, socialization
    • Mobility — Independent or dependent, willingness to go outside
    • More good days than bad — Tracking the quantity of quality days

The HHHHHMM scale provides a tangible and objective measurement of your pet’s basic functions. If your pet’s scores poorly in any category, contact Village Veterinary Hospital to discuss their results with your veterinarian.

  • Three things — This simple but personalized method asks you to think of—and ideally write down—three things your pet absolutely loves. These may be experiences (e.g., car rides, going for a walk, curling up on their window perch), toys, people, or food. When your pet no longer expresses interest in their three favorite things, their quality of life is decreased.
  • Journaling Daily notes that summarize your pet’s day can help you track and recognize behavioral or routine changes. Journals can also be helpful when you discuss your pet’s condition with your veterinarian.
  • Tracking good and bad days — If journaling is too time consuming, consider tracking your pet’s good and bad days on a calendar with a happy face for a good day and a frowning face for a bad day. Although this method is somewhat subjective, the pattern of several bad days can speak volumes to emotional pet owners.
  • Maintain a dialogue with your veterinarian — If you’re uncertain about your pet’s health, comfort, or wellbeing, request a phone consultation or schedule a QOL appointment at Village Veterinary Hospital. 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 this alone. 

Why we don’t recommend natural passing for pets

Pet owners often ask about allowing their pet to die naturally at home, assuming that this is more peaceful and respectful. Unfortunately, natural death is often frightening for pets and their owners, as pets may intensely struggle (e.g., respiratory distress, loss of coordination), panic, and become confused during their final minutes or hours. Seizures, vocalizations, and bladder or bowel voiding are not uncommon. Many pet owners who choose natural passing later express regret and choose humane euthanasia for future pets.

Understanding can ease end-of-life decisions about your pet

If you are now asking, “Is it time?” it is time to act. 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 we provide at Village Veterinary Hospital will help you feel more in control and more at peace with your decision, because you will know you are giving your pet the greatest gift—freedom from pain and suffering. 

After a lifetime of memories and love, we know that you will find discussing your senior pet’s declining quality of life extremely difficult. That’s why you can reach Village Veterinary Hospital by email, phone, or an in-person appointment if you need help. Our team will help ensure your beloved pet receives the compassionate end-of-life care they deserve.

By |2023-01-19T00:24:37+00:00January 19th, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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