What Is My Pet's Quality of Life?
(This article was originally published in the Summer 2004 Issue of Profitable Practice Magazine.)
Quality of life can be a very subjective term. It depends on your pet's disease process, your pet's personality and your own beliefs. the way in which your pet responds to its disease is as individual as your furry companion is. Every pet experiences and reacts to changes in their body differently.
The following factors must be taken into consideration when determining an animal's quality of life. It is our goal to prevent and mitigate suffering which is inevitable if a symptom becomes out of control or overwhelming.
There is a common misconception that our furry companions hide their pain as a protective mechanism. However, they do not mask their pain but they do lack an emotional attachment to it; they feel discomfort but they don't care about it like we do. Thus, it's vitally important to relieve any pain that a pet is outwardly displaying to us.
The most common signs of pain in cats and dogs include: pacing, excessive panting, hiding in unique areas, not seeking interaction with the family, growling, snarling, snapping, immobility, whining, not eating and flinching when touched.
Pets can survive for many days without food and water. However, a lack of appetite or thirst can be a sign that the body has begun shutting down. Appetite stimulants can sometimes help to restore the appetite for a certain period of time. Some pets may never lose their desire to eat. An individual's appetite can be a good indication of the internal function (or dysfunction) of the pet. Consider whether your pet is eating enough. Does hand feeding help?
When a pet becomes incontinent, many pet-parents feel tremendous guilt over the annoyance that they experience. This is a normal feeling. Pets do not like to "soil their den". As a result, they may experience anxiety evidenced by increased panting or not being able to settle down. If not carefully managed, incontinence can lead to bed sores and systemic infections in severe cases. Are you able to keep your pet clean and comfortable at all times? Can you groom them without causing discomfort? These are important factors in your companion's quality of life.
Arthritis and mobility issues are common as our pets age. Often, these signs first become noticeable at night when the pet begins to pace around the house. The symptoms may progress to falling, inability to stand, urinate or defecate, and heavy panting. During the later stages you may find your pet becoming very anxious. When anti-inflammatories and other medications cease to work, quality of life becomes a concern.
You know your pet best and you will be the best judge of your pet's happiness. Do they continue to enjoy food, toys, and their environment? Do they still enjoy and seek out contact with you and the rest of the family? Are the good days outnumbered by the bad days? Is a healthy human-pet bond still possible? Most pets are very easy to please. So, when it no longer becomes possible to raise a purr or the wag of a tail, you must begin to consider the quality of life your pet is experiencing.
It is extremely helpful to discuss these factors with others, especially your veterinarian. They can offer objective advice regarding your pet's quality of life and aid you in any decision-making that is necessary.