Your senior pet has spent their entire life giving you unconditional love and companionship, and you owe them the chance to age gracefully and maintain the highest possible quality of life (QOL). “Quality of life” sounds vague, so how can you determine where your pet stands, and monitor their changes? Homestead Animal Hospital explains what QOL means, assessments you can make at home, and interventions to improve your senior pet’s QOL.

Pets who benefit from quality of life monitoring

Periodic QOL assessments, in pets young or old, can help you keep tabs on changes in your pet’s health and then make adjustments. Senior pets can benefit from more frequent monitoring, because they’re more likely to develop chronic health conditions that can adversely affect QOL. Aim to assess your pet’s QOL monthly, or weekly, if they have one of the following conditions:

  • Kidney disease — May cause dehydration, nausea, and poor appetite
  • Heart disease — May cause exercise intolerance, coughing, and difficulty breathing
  • Endocrine disorders (i.e., diabetes, thyroid disease, Cushing’s syndrome) — May cause changes in thirst, urination, appetite, weight, muscle tone, and metabolism
  • Arthritis — Can cause pain and significantly decreased mobility
  • Cancer — Signs vary depending on cancer type.
  • Glaucoma — Causes pain and blindness that is acute or progresses slowly

How to determine pet quality of life

Your veterinarian can guide you through your QOL assessments, which can be determined by considering your pet’s basic and individual needs, including:

  • Weight and nutrition — Is your pet eating enough, voluntarily or assisted, to maintain reasonable energy and weight? 
  • Hydration — Can your pet drink enough to replace what they lose, or can you give them supplemental fluids at home?
  • Behavior — Is your pet acting like themselves? Can they participate in or enjoy their normal activities? Has your pet become a danger to other pets or family members?
  • Social engagement — Does your pet seek out social time with family members, or are they now cranky and withdrawn? Do they recognize and approach you?
  • Pain — Can treatments control your pet’s pain? Is pain contributing to reduced appetite, activity, or social behavior?
  • Hygiene — Being wet or dirty is uncomfortable and can lead to skin sores or infections. Can you keep your immobile or incontinent pet clean and dry? Does your pet allow frequent grooming?
  • Mobility — Can your pet access necessary items? Can they move if they have an accident while you’re away? Can you assist them with mobility aids?

You can track QOL over time by using a commercial QOL scale that quantifies and scores each category, keeping track of good and bad days on a calendar, and periodically taking a mental inventory to discuss with your veterinarian. Keep in mind that a low score in any one category can indicate a poor QOL, depending on your individual pet, and despite an overall good score. For example, you have an active, ball-obsessed dog who can no longer play with the ball. Can you keep them engaged and happy another way? Or, your indoor/outdoor cat can no longer go outside. Are they miserable or content being confined inside? Beyond basic life functions, only you can decide which factors are most important for your pet.

How to improve pet quality of life

Discuss your pet’s QOL findings frequently with your veterinarian, so they can help you find solutions. Pets may benefit from medical treatments that improve comfort (e.g., subcutaneous fluids to keep them hydrated), feeding tube placement for adequate nutrition, physical therapy for mobility, and medications for pain or nausea management. You can also make household adjustments, such as confining your pet to one house level, moving their essential items closer to social areas, placing rugs or runners for traction, and employing mobility aids such as slings, toe caps, or carts. Alternative and integrative therapies, including acupuncture, laser therapy, chiropractic, and herbs, can also be effective for many pets.

When to consider humane euthanasia

Humane euthanasia is a complex and personal decision for most people. If your pet’s QOL is declining, ask your veterinarian about more treatment options, factoring in treatment costs, success rates, time commitment, and emotional involvement when you make your decision. How do you want your pet to spend their last few hours or days? How do you want to remember your pet? If you can no longer help a suffering pet, saying goodbye with dignity can be your ultimate gift.

Homestead Animal Hospital is here to help you and your pet through thick and thin. If you have concerns about your aging pet’s quality of life, or feel they may have developed a chronic disease, contact us for a consultation to develop a long-term senior pet care plan.