How to assess quality of life in your pet

Quantity of life is meaningless without quality. Because quality issues are vague and changeable, it is easy to focus instead on quantity (i.e. your pets age). It is important to keep these two factors in balance.

Because we cannot ask our pets how they feel, we must rely on their behaviour and from this infer quality of life (QOL). The factors that affect an animal’s ability to carry on its normal activities are alertness or their mental status, appetite, weight/body condition and activity.

Quality of life means different things to different people. For some people, it is their pet chasing a ball or greeting them at the door. For others, it is simply knowing that pets are eating and sleeping through relaxing, comfortable days.

One of the difficulties in evaluating your pet’s quality of life is that it can decline gradually. For someone living with a pet there may be no obvious daily changes, while to someone who only sees your pet every few weeks or months there could be dramatic change.

Because of this, we encourage owners to establish and document their own personal “minimum standards” of quality of life for their pet and use the following guide to help evaluate their pet’s comfort and general happiness.

Thinking about these issues and discussing them with your family and your veterinarian early during disease/aging can help with difficult decisions later, such as discontinuing treatment or electing euthanasia.

Read the questions below and score each question 1-4 using this Score guide:
1=my pet never displays these signs
2=my pet occasionally displays these signs e.g. a few times in the last week
3= my pet has done this at least once in the last day or two
4= my pet does this a lot

Questions:
• My pet is having trouble moving around and needs help to go to the toilet or to get to food. score=
• Sometimes I can hear my pet wake up when they used to sleep all night. score =
• My pet doesn’t interact with me or my other pets as much as before (e.g. doesn’t greet me when I get home, hides or spends lots of time alone, doesn’t “chase” the postman). score=
• My pet takes longer to sit, settle or go to sleep. score=
• My pet is more vocal e.g. cries, whimpers, yelps. score=
• My pet no longer goes for walks, exercise(dogs) or can jump onto furniture (cats) like they used to. score=
• My pet has changed toileting habits e.g. weeing and pooing (changed frequency, where they go etc). score =
• My pet hasn’t been able or wanted to play with me. score=
• I have spent more time cleaning my pet after toileting and/or eating. score=
• I have thought my pet is having a “bad day”. score=

Total the score / 40

If the total is 10-20: your pet currently enjoys good to excellent quality of life. They have good mobility, are not suffering from pain and are happy and interacting with you normally.

If the total score is 20-30: your pet is showing signs of compromised quality of life. Please make an appointment with your vet to discuss measures to improve their quality of life. Also see http://www.vetwell.com.au/news/celebrating-seniors-check-list-for-older-pets for more information on senior pet health issues.

If the score > 30: your pet is experiencing poor quality of life. Please make an appointment with your vet as it may be time to discuss end of life preparations.

There often comes a point in the treatment of our veterinary patients when we have exhausted all reasonable treatment options, and there is a low probability for good quality of life in the future. We also must remember that just because a treatment is technically possible does not mean that it is the best thing for your pet. We are then faced with euthanasia as the last treatment option.

Just as we have intervened in the pet’s life by providing medical care to improve and prolong quality of life, we offer intervention when these methods are no longer effective so that we do not prolong needless suffering. It is the last act of kindness that we can offer.