Concerned about your pet's quality of life? There is not one simple and correct way to evaluate your pet's quality of life. It's also not as simple as saying 'when he stops eating' or 'you'll just know'. Below are a variety of tools to help you and the pet's entire family evaulate quality of life.
The following two Pet Quality of Life Scales have been developed by co-Founders Dr. Gardner and McVety, each with a different way to evaluate quality of life and address concerns for the family. Print these PDF's, keep them in plain sight and have multiple people in the family use them daily or weekly.
Dr. Gardner's Pet Quality of Life Scale: "Pet Quality of Life Scale and Daily Diary ~ Dr. Gardner"
Dr. McVety's Pet Quality of Life Scale: "Pet Quality of Life Scale and Daily Diary ~ Dr. McVety"
For a more intenstive, disease-based evaluation of quality of life, visit Lap of Love’s interactive web-based Quality of Life tool: www.PetHospiceJournal.com
Many people like to say that pets “hide” their pain. Some research has concluded that this may not be the case. Carnivores like cats and dogs do not have a reason to hide their pain like prey animals do. Instead, they simply lack the emotional attachment to their pain like humans. Yes, they feel discomfort… they simply don’t care about it like we do. With this understanding, it’s important to realize that when pets in hospice care DO show us outward displays of pain (see LIST), we should be reaching for strong medications like opioids, not just anti-inflammatories (like aspirin). If you’re interested in a much more in-depth look at pain in pets, pick up Dr. Temple Grandin’s book Animals in Translation and read Chapter 5 “Pain and Suffering.”
Common signs of pain in cats and dogs: Pacing, excessive panting, hiding in unique areas, not seeking interaction with family, growling, snarling, snapping, immobility, whining, not eating, flinching when touched.
Human hospice has a saying “food and water are for the living.” Pets can physiologically survive for many days without food and water, although the lack of appetite or thirst can be a sign that the body has begun shutting down. Appetite stimulants can sometimes help restore the appetite for a certain period of time. Talk with your regular veterinarian or Lap of Love for more information. Also keep in mind that some pets may never lose their desire to eat. In many cases appetite can be a good indication of the internal function (or dysfunction) of the pet.
Many pet owners feel terribly guilty over the natural annoyance they feel when their pet becomes incontinent. This is normal; keep in mind pets do not like to “soil their den” and as a result may experience anxiety which may be visible by increased panting or appearing uncomfortable. If left unkempt incontinence can lead to bed sores and eventually systemic infection in severe cases.
Arthritis and mobility issues are common as our pets age. Usually, these signs first become evident at night when the pet begins to pace around the house. It may progress to falling, unable to stand, unable to urinate/defecate, and panting heavily. During the later stages you may find your pet very anxious. As they (usually dogs) begin to understand that they cannot get up and down on their own accord, their natural anxiety level rises as they start to feel like “prey” instead of being the predator. They can no longer protect their family as they once did. When anti-inflammatories and other medications cease to work, quality of life should be a concern.
If you have been an earnest observer of your pet's behavior and attitude during his or her lifetime, you will be the best at determining when they no longer seem "happy." You'll know when they no longer enjoy food, toys, or the environment around them. Most of all, they no longer enjoy or seek out contact with you and the rest of its family. Most pets are tremendously easy to please, so when it no longer becomes possible to raise a purr or a tail-wag, you should be considering what kind of quality of life your pet is experiencing.