Considering Your Pet’s Quality of Life With Aging or Disease

yellow labrador retriever in a Balto Jump brace for CCL injury. A brace for knee injury in dogs.

How to evaluate quality of life for both the pet and pet parent in cases of aging and disease

The term “quality of life” (sometimes shortened to QoL) is used to assess how a pet is doing in the midst of disease and is many times associated with aging.

Pet parents understand their pets the best and are considered the expert regarding the quality of their life. It is typical of veterinarians to evaluate your pet multiple times throughout a pet’s illness and senior life. For many family members, especially those with young children, it can be helpful to involve them in discussions regarding quality as important decisions need to be made.

A couple of questions to start measuring quality objectively are:

  • Take a minute to define the term ‘quality of life’ for your pet. What is important for their happiness and comfort?
  • Is my pet eating or drinking normally?
  • Can my pet relieve themselves on their own? Or In the right location?
  • Can my pet move around on their own?
  • Is my pet interested in activities that excited them when they were younger or healthy?
  • Is my pet withdrawn often?
  • Is my pet in any pain or discomfort?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, they are many ways pet parents can improve the pet’s quality of life. By making simple adjustments such as altering their schedule to better serve their cognitive state, changing their diet to absorb much-needed nutrients, and supporting muscles and joints with dog orthopedic bracing.

Pain vs Suffering

It is also important to understand the difference between pain and suffering as you are making an assessment of your pet’s quality of life.

Pain is both a physical and emotional sensation that can often be difficult to assess. A pet’s reaction to pain can vary depending on their personality and the degree of pain that they are experiencing. It is recommended to ask your veterinarian what are signs your pet will display that indicate pain.

Suffering is more than what can be evaluated physically, and considers your pet’s ability to enjoy living life. The questions above can help decide if important qualities are diminishing or are no longer present in your pet’s life.

Measuring Quality of Life

It may also be advantageous to consider some of the suggestions below to gain a deep understanding of your pet’s current quality of life.

  • Create a list of your pet’s unique qualities
  • Keep a good day/ bad day calendar
  • Keep a journal

Creating a life of your pet’s unique qualities are very specialized to their lifelong interests. Things such as: chasing a ball, socializing with other pets, greeting you at the door, playing with toys, eagerness to go for walks, and usual habits like barking at neighbors. As your pet’s disease or aging signs progress, and these qualities fade, mark them off the list.

Keeping a good day/ bad day calendar starts with evaluating what makes a good day for you r pet and what makes a bad day. Pet parents can use a system like smiley faces and frowny faces to mark on a calendar, or keep a journal with a more specific list of behaviors. Keeping a journal can help look back over a period and notice any declinations that are difficult to observe short term.

Follow this link for the commonly used Quality of Life Scale - HHHHHMM Scale 

Assessing The Pet Parent’s Quality of Life

As pet parents consider their pet’s quality of life, it is also important to remember that quality of life also pertains to the pet parent as well. As a pet owner, thinking of your own needs during this time can sometimes feel selfish, but is vital to take into account. If the pet parent is suffering or unable to assist with a pet’s extenuated needs, there’s a chance that it could add to a pet’s discomfort, even against a pet parent’s best intentions.

Some questions to ask yourself as a pet parent to help evaluate your own quality of life:

  • How much of my life will go towards taking care of my pet? Can I provide my pet with the support they need with the time that I have?
  • What costs will I incur to take care of my pet? What other financial responsibilities do I have?
  • What other responsibilities do I have that cannot be set aside (career, parenting, caregiving)?
  • Who can help me?
  • What other stresses and obligations do I have in my life right now?
  • Do I have any physical limitations (illness, disease, mental health) of my own that prevent my ability to care for my aging or ill pet?

Taking a moment to assess your own life does not diminish the love or care you provide to your pet, but rather emphasizes what needs to be prioritized. While this can be an extremely difficult decision to make, it is important to take care of yourself and remember that you have done and are still doing the best for your pet.