As your pet ages, they may encounter health complications, and knowing how to assess your senior pet’s quality of life (QOL) is important to recognize when you should say goodbye, so your pet doesn’t suffer. Our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team wants to help by providing guidelines for assessing your senior pet’s QOL.

Conditions affecting your pet’s quality of life

QOL is used to determine a pet’s health, comfort, and ability to participate in and enjoy life events. Senior pets are at increased risk for several chronic, progressive medical conditions that can negatively impact their QOL. Common diagnoses in older pets include:

  • Cancer — Cancer is the leading cause of death in middle-aged or older pets. Common cancers that affect pets include lymphoma, mast cell tumors, squamous cell carcinoma, mammary gland carcinoma, and osteosarcoma.
  • Cognitive dysfunction — Similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, cognitive dysfunction leads to memory loss, confusion, inability to learn, and increased anxiety.
  • Arthritis — Arthritis, which causes cartilage deterioration inside the joint, is common in senior pets, who experience pain and decreased mobility.
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) — CKD results in irreversible kidney damage that inhibits the body’s ability to filter biological waste from the blood. As the waste products accumulate, pets experience lethargy, nausea, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

Pet quality of life assessment

You love your pet, and objectively assessing their QOL can be difficult, because you don’t want your time together to end. To help pet owners make the right decisions for their pets, veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos developed a QOL scale to measure a pet’s health, comfort, and ability to enjoy life. The scale considers seven categories, assigning a score of 1 to 10 for each parameter. A score above five in each category, and an overall score above 35, suggests that a pet’s QOL is acceptable. Scores below these values indicate that you should consult your veterinarian about end-of-life plans for your pet. Parameters evaluated in the QOL scale include:

  • Pain management — A top concern is appropriate management of your pet’s pain and whether they can breathe properly. Questions to consider include:
    • Does your pet need medication to control their pain?
    • Does your pet’s medication adequately control their pain?
    • Can you administer your pet’s medications as frequently as necessary?
    • Does your pet require oxygen supplementation?
  • Nutrition — Proper nutrition is important for weight maintenance and muscle loss prevention. Questions to consider include:
    • Is your pet eating enough to maintain adequate nutrition?
    • Does hand feeding your pet help encourage eating?
    • Does offering several food options encourage your pet to eat?
    • Does your pet need a feeding tube and, if so, can you maintain the tube?
  • Hydration — Adequate hydration is crucial to your pet’s health. Questions to consider include:
    • Is your pet drinking enough to maintain adequate hydration?
    • Does your pet have a slow skin tent or tacky mucous membranes, indicating dehydration?
    • Are you able to administer subcutaneous fluids, if necessary?
  • Cleanliness — Appropriate hygiene is necessary to prevent skin irritation and infection. Questions to consider include:
    • Are you able to properly groom your pet, especially after they eliminate?
    • Can you keep your pet parasite free?
    • Are you able to clean their wounds?
  • Enjoyment — In addition to health concerns, you want your pet to enjoy life. Questions to consider include:
    • Does your pet express joy and interest?
    • Is your pet responsive to favorite toys?
    • Does your pet interact with you and your family?
    • Does your pet seem depressed, anxious, or afraid?
  • Mobility — Some pets lose mobility when affected by certain health complications. Questions to consider include:
    • Can your pet move without assistance?
    • Are you able to assist your pet, if needed?
    • Can you change your pet’s position as often as necessary to prevent bedsores?
    • Is your pet experiencing seizures?
  • More good days — Keep track of your pet’s good and bad days. When their bad days outnumber their good ones, their QOL is compromised.

Guidelines to improve your pet’s quality of life

By promoting health, movement, cognitive function, and comfort, you can help your senior pet maintain a good QOL for many years. Recommendations include:

  • Schedule regular wellness checkups — Since senior pets are at higher risk for health complications, a veterinary professional should evaluate them at least every six months. Regular wellness visits help catch potential health issues in the early stages when they are easier to manage.
  • Maintain your pet at a healthy weight — Obesity predisposes your pet to several health complications, such as cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and arthritis. In addition, carrying excess weight inhibits your pet’s ability to move and breathe, negatively impacting their QOL.
  • Provide physical exercise — All pets need daily physical exercise to keep their joints healthy and strengthen their muscles. Ask our veterinary team about an appropriate exercise regimen for your senior pet.
  • Stimulate your pet’s mind — Mental stimulation is important to help keep your pet engaged and potentially counteract cognitive decline. Teach your pet a new trick or feed them using a food puzzle toy to provide mental exercise. 
  • Provide ramps or steps — If your pet has joint pain, they likely find accessing favorite resting areas difficult. Ramps or steps can help them get on and off beds and sofas, and into cars. 
  • Provide comfortable bedding — Senior pets need thick, soft, comfortable bedding.

Regularly assessing your pet’s QOL is important to keep them comfortable and happy. If you would like to schedule a wellness examination for your senior pet, contact our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team, so we can ensure their QOL is optimal.