Let’s delve into a more in depth discussion of how to assess your pet’s quality of life. To gain a true perspective on the subject it is important first to understand your responsibility as a pet owner. When we bring a pet into our home we are accepting a stewardship role in that animal’s life. You are their source of care and as such you accept the authority to make decisions on their behalf, including decisions affecting their well-being. Of course this is easy while they are in good health, but not so easy when their health declines. Many pet owners experience some level of guilt when they are faced with making an end-of-life decision for their pet. Oftentimes they wish their pet would “just pass away” while sleeping. This certainly would be a good death. But the term “euthanasia” when translated from Greek means “good death”. It is a means of relieving an animal’s suffering. Suffering is one of the major reasons for ending life. Another reason is poor quality of life.
First let’s look at suffering. How can you determine that your pet is suffering? Here are some hallmark signs of suffering in animals:
Exhibiting pain-which can be sharp and piercing pain or dull and throbbing. Outward signs of these can be any of the following: 1) vocalization-barking, moaning, and yelping. 2) panting even while at rest, 3) immobility or a reluctance to move around, 4) restlessness and inability to sit or lay down comfortably, 5) poor appetite, 6) sudden and uncharacteristic aggression – such as snapping when touched in a particular area of the body, which is not a normal behavior for that pet.
Difficulty breathing-distressed breathing. An animal struggling to take in oxygen has little to no energy or reserve to do much else but breathe. Therefore the appetite, the activity, the ability to reach its elimination area-all are affected.
Persistent nausea- the inability to consume and retain nutrients will lead to rapid decline. Also vomiting can be painful.
Uncontrolled seizures-this is very distressing and dangerous for a pet to experience.
Keep in mind that medications prescribed by your veterinarian are specifically designed to address your pet’s clinical symptoms. You live with your pet day to day, therefore your evaluation of how effectively medications are alleviating the symptoms determines the condition of suffering. You play a vital role in assessing how well things are going.
Another criteria for assessing a pet’s life is Quality of Life. This can be more subtle than pain symptoms and can involve multiple factors. The basic question any owner should ask themselves is this: Is my pet able to do the things they enjoy? There may be varying degrees of this; that is your pet can do some things and not others, but if the scales tip more towards the “cannot do” vs “can do”, the quality of life is poor. Some examples of enjoyment in a pet’s life are: interaction with you and family, cuddling with you, daily walks, exploring the yard, chasing ball, trips to the park, rides in the car, mealtime, play time with other pets in the household. Make a short list of what you know to be the joyful activities of your pet and check off which ones are still happening, or journal them over a period of time. This will help you be more objective and see the situation more clearly.
Let the experts help you with your assessment. I suggest gathering the family around and taking time to go through each of these two resources:
1) the Quality of Life Scales published by Pawspice and Dr. Villalobos:
2) the Quality of Life scale on the website Ohio State University also provides a useful assessment tool for pet owners. Click Here to view the link. Be as thoughtful and thorough in your decision making so that you can be at peace with the outcome and know you are doing what is right for your pet.