How to Determine a Dog's Quality of Life
Assessing Quality of Life in Dogs
Owners who are questioning when a dog should be put down will often hear veterinarians discuss quality of life. Quality of life is all about making the pet comfortable. Owners and veterinarians, therefore, can assess together how the quality of life of a dog can be increased, courtesy of medications and lots of tender, loving care. When quality of life is poor, euthanasia is often considered.
Euthanasia comes from the Greek language which means a ''good death." A good death is, therefore, something to be considered when a dog's life appears to become too distressing and intolerable. This humane and peaceful procedure is the best option in this scenario.
While a veterinarian may give some opinions of when a dog should be euthanized, it really ultimately comes down to the owner to make the decision. Only owners know their dogs best and, therefore, only they can make this informed decision. Veterinarians and veterinarian staff may direct people towards options, but it ultimately is the dog owner's decision. This still remains one of the most difficult decisions a dog owner may have to face.
A Helpful Scale for Dog Owners in Need
The most common feelings affecting dog owners considering euthanasia is fear, insecurity anger and guilt. Fear takes place because it is humane to fear the loss of loved ones, indeed, the death of a dog is one of the most distressing situations owners may face. Insecurity takes place because dogs, having been spared from the capacity of talking, must rely on dog owners to be their main decision makers. And guilt, perhaps because in a corner of a mind of every dog owner there is always space for hope that the dog will miraculously get better.
To help owners out, many veterinarians have a quality of life scale, so dog owners can rationally assess their dog's personal situation. This scale can help dog owners make decisions or at least open up a discussion with their vet to see if more can be done.
An Example of a Quality of Life Scale
- Pain: Is your dog in obvious pain? Has he been benefiting from pain relievers? Does she have trouble breathing? Pain is one of the main considerations when assessing the quality of life of an animal. While there are many effective pain relievers, at times, they may not be sufficient, or the side effects may outweigh the benefits.
- Appetite: Eating is essential for life and dogs that have lost appetite need to receive nutrition. How well is your dog eating? Does he need to be force fed? Can he eat on his own? There are some medications that may increase appetite and some foods made for dogs that need extra nutrition (Hill's A/D, Nutrical) In severe cases, a stomach tube may be inserted.
- Thirst: A dog needs water more than food, so adequate hydration is crucial. Is your dog drinking enough? If you lift up the skin over the shoulders in a tent, does it spring back quickly or does it take time or worse remain lifted? Fluids injected under the skin may help be a great way to supplement water. Some dog owners may learn how to give fluids at home.
- Hygiene: Is your dog's coat dull and smelly? Is the coat matted? Is your dog's mobility affected so much that he lies on its waste after elimination? Can your dog control its bladder and bowel functions? A lack of hygiene is often seen in sick, debilitated pets and this can significantly affect quality of life.
- Joy of Life: How happy is your dog? Does he still walk? Does she still enjoy time with you? Is he still interacting with your family? Look for signs of joy and general happiness related with enjoying life.Dogs that appear depressed, lonely, anxious or fearful may be in pain or have started to give up on life.
- Mobility: Dogs rely on their legs a lot. Unlike humans, dog cannot live using a wheelchair or a cane. In nature, dogs that have loss their mobility eventually die. Questions to ask are: ''How much can my dog get around? Is his mobility affected by seizures or other nervous system disorders? Can she get up to relieve herself? Dogs that have painful joints may be helped out with medications. A sling, harness or cart may be helpful in some circumstances.
- Being Bright and Alert: One of the most common things veterinarians look at when they assess the level of health in an animal is how bright and alert the animal is to its surrounding. Indeed, a dog that is withdrawn and lethargic is not a dog feeling well. Signs of brightness and alertness includes response to noises, lifting up the head, ear movements, tail wags etc.
- Assessing Days: This is one of the most important considerations to keep in mind. Is my dog having more good days than bad? Marking on a calendar how your dog feels each day may be helpful. A bad day of course is characterized by the dog suffering, either from lethargy, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting or simply pain. Good days are when your dog responds to you, is alert and active, demonstrating a general willingness to enjoy life.
This is just an example of a typical quality of life scale. One of the first most interesting and thorough scales was crafted by Dr. Villalobos a veterinarian in order to help dog owners and veterinarians to come to a decision or at least a discussion and thoughts. HHHHHMM stands for Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Mobility and 'More Good Days than Bad''.
In the midst of several uncertainties, there are not many things in life as certain as death. And when our beloved dog's time comes close, as much as we would want to postpone death and keep our loyal friend with us, it is unfortunate than eventually, that dreaded time will come. With quality of life in mind, most owners can make the best decision for their dogs.
For Further Reading
- What happens during a pet's euthanasia appointment
pet euthanasia, cohdra, morguefile.com If your dog or cat has arrived to a point where his or her body is frail and there is nothing that more that can be medically done, your vet may suggest to schedule a...
- When to put a dog to sleep
cohdra Working at a veterinarian hospital, I inevitably received those dreadful phone calls from owners asking if it was time to put their beloved dog to sleep. Unfortunately, I was never able to give them...
Questions & Answers
My sixteen-year-old cocker is bright, eating, drinking and wagging his tail For the past few weeks, on and off, he is unable to stay upright as his back legs are failing him. He is taking Rimadyl, and was doing well on it, but it's not helping anymore. When do I decide to put him down, as he still seems so happy?
If he still seems happy and enjoying life that is a good thing! Usually, we used to advise to put dogs down when the bad days outnumbered the good ones. Of course, this is a personal choice, so owners who know their dog best should decide based on their personal experience with their pet and perception of how much they are still enjoying activities such as eating, being pet and interacting with their owners. You can consult with your vet to see if there are any options for better pain management. There are also mobility harnesses to help old dogs get around.
When will I know that it's time to put my seventeen-year-old dog down?
So sorry you are going through this. It's a very personal choice, and as a dog owner, you know your dog best. As a general rule of thumb, vets say it's generally the time when there are more bad days than good, and the dog doesn't show signs of enjoying the things he used to do (eating, being pet, going out in the yard to sniff, etc.) So basically, when the dog is no longer comfortable.
We think our 12-year-old schnauzer mix male is deaf. He's miserable and raw from allergies that are only eased temporarily. He's irritable and cranky. All he does anymore is lick and sleep. Is it time to put him down?
© 2010 Adrienne Janet Farricelli