Assessing Your Pet’s Quality of Life
You know your pet better than anyone else does – this makes you uniquely qualified to determine if your pet’s quality of life has diminished to a point where it may be time to consider arranging for a peaceful passing for them. It is a highly personal decision, and there are many factors that come into play when making such a difficult and painful determination.
Here are some guidelines that may help you make the right decision for your beloved pet:
- Is your pet relatively comfortable? Dr. Packer can help you determine your pet’s comfort level as there are often subtle clues that can indicate poorly controlled pain. Veterinary medicine today can offer many effective types of pain control (medications, acupuncture, massage, etc) but there may come a point where your pet’s pain goes beyond what is acceptable, despite our best efforts to relieve it.
- Is your pet eating? Sometimes special accommodations or special meals may need to be offered to encourage an appetite, but if your pet refuses to eat for several days it may be significant.
- Is your pet keeping well hydrated? Often sick animals or animals with mobility problems become quite dehydrated, which can lead to feelings of weakness, nausea, lethargy and decreased hunger. Often supplemental fluids can be given that can keep your pet adequately hydrated – this is definitely an area that we may be able to help with. Even in the home, in a palliative or hospice situation (or even more long term, as with some chronic but not immediately life-threatening diseases), dehydration can often be corrected relatively easily. If your pet becomes severely dehydrated and you are unable to provide supplemental fluids however, this is a serious quality of life issue.
- Does your pet have difficulty breathing, uncontrollable coughing, frequent vomiting, continual diarrhea or constipation or any other symptom of significant systemic illness or organ failure which is not treatable and not likely to cease? Any of these symptoms can cause extreme distress, anxiety and discomfort for your pet and require consideration when trying to quantify quality of life.
- Has your pet’s behavior changed? This may be a subtle change to others, but usually you notice changes in your pet’s behavior that may signal that he or she is not feeling well. Pets are creatures of habit, and any change in patterns or behaviors may be very significant. For example, if your Frisbee-crazy dog no longer wants to play, it may mean there is pain or illness that is overshadowing his desire to interact as he always has. If your cat, who has always slept snuggled close to you suddenly hides away in the closet or behind the couch all night, this is often a very real indicator that things are not right.
- Are you having trouble dealing with your pet’s hygiene and elimination habits? For some owners, their pets’ occasional accident in the house may not be a big deal. For others, their normally immaculate pet having trouble controlling their bowels or bladder signals a noticeable decline in function. Often, people are concerned about their beloved pet losing their dignity. Each individual case is different but if you are having trouble keeping your pet clean or keeping up with cleaning the accidents in the house, this must be factored in to the quality of life determination.
- How is your dog or cat’s mobility? If your pet is unable to rise and move from one location to another, this often impairs their ability to maintain a comfortable existence. Full, four-legged mobility is not a strict requirement however, and many pets do well with three legs, or with the assistance of carts or other mobility assisting devices. Mobility may also be intricately related to the factors of pain, appetite, hydration and hygiene.
- Does your pet have more “bad days” than “good days”? It is common for an aging pet or animal with a chronic, debilitating illness to have fluctuating levels of energy and life enjoyment. As your pet’s most constant companion, you are likely most attuned to these fluctuations. Over time it may become clear to you that your pet just isn’t enjoying herself they way she used to, or that there seems to be little time during which she is engaged with the activities, people and other animals around her. Trust your intuition in this. What you know in your heart is almost always true.
Each of the above factors should be evaluated when trying to assess your pet’s overall quality of life. Sometimes an animal may have only slightly diminished levels in many areas but the sum total when all factors are considered may equate to a poor quality of life. Conversely, if just one of these components is severely diminished, it may also signal that the most kind and humane decision you could make for your pet would be to choose a peaceful and controlled passing via euthanasia.
Often it is very helpful to discuss your pet’s situation with others, particularly with us. We can help sort through your options for any treatments that are available and/or help reassure you that there are no simple or reasonable steps that you could take to restore your pet’s health and quality of life to an acceptable level – thereby easing your mind that you have done all that could be done, within reason, for your dear companion.
Dr. Packer is particularly experienced at helping pet owners assess their pet’s quality of life and sorting through any and all viable options for improving it, if possible. Having Dr. Packer make a house call to see your pet in its home surroundings can be invaluable at this time. He can often offer creative and thoughtful solutions to many problems that affect your pet’s enjoyment of life. As you near the point where end-of-life decisions need to be made, Dr. Packer will offer compassionate, non-judgmental, and honest support.