If your pet is in their senior years, you may wonder how to determine if they enjoy life. Assessing your pet’s quality of life (QOL) is important as they get older, and our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team wants to help guide you through this trying time by answering frequently asked questions about pet QOL assessment. 

Question: What is meant by a pet’s quality of life?

Answer: QOL frequently describes how a pet is doing if they are experiencing disease or conditions associated with aging. Contributing QOL factors include your pet’s health status, mental status, and emotional wellbeing. 

Q: What conditions can affect a pet’s quality of life?

A: Pain, weakness, appetite loss, and mobility issues can decrease your pet’s QOL. These signs accompany many of the following QOL-diminishing conditions:

  • Cancer — The Veterinary Cancer Society estimates that about one in four dogs and one in five cats will develop cancer at some point in their life. Pet cancer-treatment goals include prolonging their life and enhancing their QOL.
  • Osteoarthritis (OA) — OA commonly affects senior pets, causing significant joint pain and mobility problems. 
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) — CKD impairs the kidneys’ ability to filter biological waste from an affected pet’s bloodstream. Cats are especially susceptible to this condition.
  • Cognitive dysfunction — Cognitive dysfunction is a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This condition can affect a pet’s perception, awareness, learning ability, and memory.
  • Obesity — More than half of senior pets are overweight or obese, which significantly affects their QOL.

Q: How can I assess my pet’s quality of life?

A: Assessing your pet’s QOL can be difficult, because your emotions play a role and can interfere with your objectivity. Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinary oncologist, developed a QOL scale to help pet owners navigate this difficult assessment. The scale scores seven categories, using a 0- to 10-point scoring system in which 10 is ideal. Each category’s scores are summed, and an overall score greater than 35 suggests a pet’s QOL is acceptable for continuing end-of-life care and support. The seven health parameters assessed include:

  • Hurt — Acceptable pain control, and the ability to breathe well are crucial factors to consider when assessing your pet’s QOL. Does your pet require pain medication? Is their medication controlling their pain? Does your pet need oxygen supplementation?
  • Hunger — Your pet must be able to ingest sufficient food to maintain an appropriate nutrition level. Does your pet eat willingly? Does hand feeding or offering a blended diet improve their appetite? Does your pet need a feeding tube?
  • Hydration — Dehydration can lead to significant health complications, and your pet must maintain adequate hydration. Does your pet drink enough water to stay hydrated? Are you willing and able to administer subcutaneous fluids if necessary to keep your pet hydrated?
  • Hygiene — Sick pets, especially those who have mobility problems, may be unable to groom themselves properly and may have accidents when relieving themselves. They need to be kept clean to prevent bedsores and infection. Is your pet able to keep themselves clean? Are you able to assist your pet in keeping clean?
  • Happiness — Your pet deserves to enjoy life. Does your pet express joy when interacting with you and their environment? Will moving your pet’s bed to an area where your family congregates help include them in the daily routine? Does your pet exhibit depression, fear, or anxiety?
  • Mobility — If your pet has mobility issues, you must be able to assist them to ensure their needs are met. Can you or a family member physically move your pet to an acceptable location so they can relieve themselves? Can you reposition your pet every two to three hours to help prevent bedsores?
  • More good days than bad — If your pet’s bad days start to outnumber their good days, contact our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team so we can help you determine if their QOL is compromised.

Q: How will I know when to say goodbye to my pet?

A: Knowing when your pet’s QOL is compromised, and deciding to end care is a difficult decision. Recommendations for facing this situation with an impartial outlook include:

  • Keeping a journal — Keep a journal detailing your pet’s condition and progress so you can track how they are doing.
  • Keeping a calendar — Use the QOL scale to assess your pet’s condition every day, and place a smiley face on your calendar for good days and a frowny face for bad days, so you can easily visualize their progress.
  • Assessing your QOL — Your physical, emotional, and mental status are also important, and you should regularly assess how you are coping with your pet’s situation. Reach out for support from friends and family, and take breaks from caring for your pet to recharge.
  • Consulting a professional — Consult with our Heritage Veterinary Clinic professionals to get expert advice on stopping your pet’s end-of-life care. 

Deciding to say goodbye to your pet is heartbreaking, but knowing how to assess their QOL can help you navigate this difficult time. If you are concerned about your pet’s QOL, contact our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team, so we can help your pet and you as you determine the best course for your four-legged family member.