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. Therefore, owners and veterinarians 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. It means a ''good death." Therefore, a good death is 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, ultimately it comes down to the owner to make the decision. Only owners know their dogs best, so 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.
Examples of Quality of Life Scales
- 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 such as steroids 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 quality of life 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''.
Lap of Love offers a free quality of life chart that can be printed and filled out.
Another interesting method for determining quality of life entails have two jars of the same size and labeling one with the words "bad days" and one with the words "good days." Dog owners can fill the jar with a penny each day for a week in the appropriate jar based on how the dog is doing. When the jar of bad days outnumbers the good, then it may be time for a talk with the vet to discuss quality of life.
Other owner smay rather mark their calendars using a smile for good days and a frown for bad days. Keeping a journal may be helpful considering that dog owners can look back and see how many changes have taken place and how they are affecting the dog.
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...
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Koda, our thirteen-year-old Bernese cross, has been struggling to stand and has pooped while lying down because he cannot get up. He can no longer enjoy walks unless it is only four or five houses down the street. He also splays about and needs to be lifted to stand. He is on high dose prednisone and tramadol for pain. He lost his brother three months ago. Some days he seems happy and will lick us and be interactive, but other days he sleeps all day and doesn't even lift his head when we come in. Is it time to put him down?
I think it would be important knowing what is causing these episodes of not being able to stand so to understand better what may be going on. Is it from arthritis? A cancer in the spleen causing weakness? A back injury? I think a consultation with the vet may be insightful so to know if there are any options to make him more comfortable. Some dogs may need a blanket under them to help them get up and walk. It sounds like he has still some almost good days mixed with some bad ones. A lot also depends on how much time you have during the day to help him. For example, a dog may have a low quality of life if the owners are out all day at work and nobody can help turn them and get up to potty causing bed sores and poor hygiene and risks for urine scalding.Helpful 73
My 16 year old Shitzu/Maltese is deaf, can’t see very well due to cataracts and her right hip buckles under her. She has a very difficult time walking and needs help to stand while eating and drinking. She also has accidents in the house and will lay in it because she can’t stand up. Is it time to put her down?
Deciding whether to put a dog down is a personal decision and often depends on several factors. For instance, in a dog with mobility problems, it's important that the owner is always home so that the dog can be carried outside to potty or to go on a pee pad to avoid complications such as urine scald or infections. Eating and drinking may still be possible with the dog laying down in a sternal recumbency position but requires assistance from owners.If the dog is laying down in the same position for a long time, the dog will need to be turned every 2-4 hours to prevent sores and aching muscles. It's therefore important to factor in whether the dog can be given this level of care around the clock, but it's also important to watch the dog's demeanor. Is the dog still enjoying food? Being pet? Car rides? All these considerations are important and so is the help of a vet who can assess whether there is anything left to do to ameliorate quality of life.Helpful 52
Our dog has had general good health up until now, except for a few" fatty " lumps on his body. But over the last week, he has lost his appetite and his back legs seem a bit weaker. He also has heavy shallow breathing. He is twelve-years-old. Is it time to put him down?
This is difficult to answer because there may be several conditions that may cause the symptoms you are seeing, and they may be managed. I would suggest a quality of life evaluation with the help of your vet. Get some bloodwork done and see what your vet finds. The heavy, shallow breathing sounds concerning, but sometimes dogs may breathe this way from pain, and sometimes it can be due to heart abnormalities, problems with the lungs and many other conditions. Is he not eating completely or will he eat only people foods or treats? Many dogs stop to eat when they are starting to die as they no longer have needs for calories. I am keeping you in my thoughts.Helpful 41
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?
Allergies can be effectively controlled if given the appropriate treatment. I would suggest consulting with a veterinary dermatologist to get to the bottom of your dog's skin issues. There may be medications or underlying skin issues that your regular vet may have missed. I don't see deafness as a quality of life issue as many dogs are born deaf and do quite well all their lives. It takes a bit of adjustment at first, but most dogs do fairly well. Of course, if there are other issues at play (underlying cancer causing the sleeping and crankiness), then you may want to consider the quality of life with your vet.Helpful 21
Our female German Shepherd (about 12-years-old) has hip dysplasia and arthritis. She currently is on daily doses of Deramaxx, gabapentin, and tramadol and every other week she gets an Adequan shot and cold laser therapy. When she goes outside, she takes a few steps before lying down. In recent weeks, she’s had some accidents in the house while sleeping. However, she can have that burst of energy and try to play with her two brothers. Are we getting close to making this tough decision?
I think this warrants an evaluation by the vet. Have a physical and some blood work done just to check if her lying down after taking a few steps is due to arthritis or something else. Heart problems can cause dogs to get tired easily and anemia could make suspicious of some internal bleeding such as some bleeding tumor that may cause weakness. If she just has arthritis and still has days where she wants to play, discuss with your vet whether there is anything else that can be done to improve quality of life (acupuncture, dosage adjustments of some meds, mobility harness etc).Helpful 6
© 2010 Adrienne Janet Farricelli