Quality of Life

What is Quality of Life?

Quality of life is a frequent term used to assess how an animal is doing in the midst of disease. You know your pet the best, and are the expert regarding the quality of its life. Your evaluation will probably occur multiple times throughout your animal's illness. While gauging the quality of your pet's life, you may be thinking of End of Life Plans or Euthanasia for your pet. This section can be helpful as you prepare for this difficult time, and will help you determine what the best next steps are for both you and your pet. If there are other people who love your sick animal, it may be helpful, especially with children, to involve them in discussions about the quality of life of your pet, as they can help you make these difficult decisions.

Before objectively gauging the quality of life of your pet, it is important that you formulate your own definition for what  “living a quality life” truly means. Truthfully, answer some key questions such as:

  • Is your pet eating and drinking normally?

  • Can it relieve itself on its own?

  • Can your pet move around on its own?

  • Is your pet interested in the activities around it?

  • Is your pet withdrawn much of the time?

It can be helpful to understand the differences between pain and suffering before you begin making assessments of quality in your pet's life:

Pain: Pain is a physical and emotional sensation that can be complicated to assess. Keep in mind, a pet's reaction to pain is dependent upon its personality and the degree of pain it's experiencing. Ask your veterinarian what signs your pet may display to indicate pain.

Suffering: Suffering is more than physical attributes, and involves the ability to enjoy living life. Use the above tools to help decide if important qualities are diminishing or are no longer present in your pet's life. These may help you to define what suffering would be for your pet and create a plan to prevent or limit any suffering.

Strategies to Objectively Measure Quality of Life

Create a List of Your Pet's Unique Qualities

Your pet is a very special individual with their own special customs. These are a few general ideas to help you get started on your own list:

  • ​Chasing a ball

  • Playing with other pets

  • Greeting you at the door

  • Playing with toys

  • Wanting to go for walks

  • Usual habits like scratching on a post and rubbing your legs or barking at a neighbor

As your pet's disease progresses, and these qualities fade, mark them off the list. Decide early on how many you will allow to go before too much quality diminishes from your pet's day-to-day life.

Keep a Good Day/Bad Day Calendar

Evaluate what a good day would be for your pet, and also what a bad day looks like. Each evening, recall the day and decide if it was a good or bad day, marking a calendar with a happy face or a sad face. Decide how many bad days in a row occur before quality is compromised.

You also can use a marble jar for this same purpose. For each good day, a marble is placed in a jar. For every bad day, a marble is removed from the jar.

Keep a Journal

Keep a daily record of events in your and your pet's life. This will help you look back and reflect on changes that occur and how your life is affected.

Dr. Alice Villalobos' Scale Quality of Life Scale:

The HHHHHMM Scale Pet caregivers can use this Quality of Life Scale to determine the success of care. 10 is good.


Score Criterion:

1-10 HURT - Adequate pain control, including breathing ability, is first and foremost on the scale. Is the pet's pain successfully managed? Is oxygen supplementation necessary?

1-10 HUNGER - Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does the patient require a feeding tube?

1-10 HYDRATION - Is the patient dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough, use subcutaneous fluids once or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.

1-10 HYGIENE - The patient should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after elimination. Avoid pressure sores and keep all wounds clean.

1-10 HAPPINESS - Does the pet express joy and interest? Is the pet responsive to things around him or her (family, toys, etc.)? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can the pet's bed be close to the family activities and not be isolated?

1-10 MOBILITY - Can the patient get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g., a cart)? Does the pet feel like going for a walk? Is the pet having seizures or stumbling? (Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an animal who has limited mobility but is still alert and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as caregivers are committed to helping the pet.)

1-10 MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD - When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life might be compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware the end is near. The decision needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.

*TOTAL* - A total over 35 points represents acceptable life quality

Source: http://virtuavet.wordpress.com/petqualityoflife/qualityoflifescale/ (Colorado State University)

Assessing Your Own Quality of Life

As you consider the phrase "quality of life," remember this pertains to not only the quality of your pet's life, but to the quality of your own life as well. It is equally important to think of your own needs during this time. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you keep track of your own quality of life while living with your sick pet:


  1. How much of my time will go toward taking care of my pet? How much time do I have to spare?

  2. What cost will I incur to take care of my pet? What other financial responsibilities do I have?

  3. What other responsibilities do I have in my life (job, parenting)? Who else do I need to consider (partner, Children, other pets)?

  4. Who can help me?

  5. What other stresses and obligations do I have in my life right now?

Assessing your own life does not diminish the love or care you are giving to your pet, but rather emphasizes which priorities need to be tended to and in which order. While it can be very hard to make difficult decisions based on financial or other limitations, it is important to take care of yourself and also remember that you have done and are still doing the best that you can for your pet. View our suggestions for Ways to Nurture Yourself during the difficult time of caring for a sick pet.