Measuring Quality Of Life In Dogs

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When dogs become older or suffer from a debilitating disease or chronic pain, their quality of life (QoL) comes into question. When determining QoL, you are determining how much a dog may be suffering and if it’s possible to make them more comfortable through further treatment or changes in lifestyle. The QoL assessment is crucial for good palliative and hospice care and is the linchpin of the euthanasia decision.

When you consider the term “quality of life,” remember that it affects both the quality of life of your pets and your own. Assessing one’s own life does not diminish the love and care that one gives to one’s pet, but emphasizes the priorities and needs that one must cultivate for it. It can be difficult to make difficult decisions due to financial and other constraints, but it is important to take care of yourself and remember that you are doing what is best for both you and your pet. At the same time, you want your dog to maintain its quality of life. If he is in pain, unhappy or has difficulty doing everyday things, you do not want him to continue to suffer.

senior chocolate lab with white face

Trying to determine your pet’s quality of life is a daunting task and we are often left in denial. Dr. Alice Villalobos, DVM, has developed a scale to determine whether euthanizing your pet is the right choice for your situation. This is called the “HHHHHMM Test,” which covers five main areas of life:  Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility and More good days than bad days. You can view the HHHHHMM scale here. 

You can also use a Quality of Life calculator such as this one available by Journey’s Pets. While you shouldn’t use an online calculator or test to fully determine the qualify of life, it can be a good indicator of what steps to take next and which concerns to bring up with your vet. As useful as they may be, QoL questionnaires are at an early stage of development and should not be used by veterinarians or pet owners to make final decisions.

It’s important to note that wagging tails doesn’t automatically equal high quality of life as many dogs display happiness through their suffering. As your dog ages and his health decreases, it can be difficult to decide when is the right time to euthanize. The concept of QoL can be applied to any animal, but they are complex and difficult to measure.

woman looking at her dog at the vet

Understanding and measuring the quality of life of older dogs can go a long way to ensure that our pets live the best lives we can give them and can help us know when it is time to let them go. The purpose of measuring the so-called Quality of Life Scale is to help owners measure the quality of life of a pet at a time when emotions are still raw. Saying goodbye is always heartbreaking, but when it does, we can seek solace in knowing what a wonderful journey we have made together. 

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