Quality of Life
The most important factor in providing care for our pets, and particularly decision making about end of life care, is their quality of life. But what is quality of life? Not only can it be tricky to define, but it can be somewhat subjective to assess. Most of us don’t want to wait until our pet is actively suffering to provide hospice care or humane euthanasia. So how do we know when they need more help or when is the right time to choose pet euthanasia? Fortunately, we are here to help guide you through these tough decisions.
Quality of life assessments often focus heavily on pain, but that is only one factor to consider. Quality of life assessments must take into account not just the patient’s physical comfort, but also their social and mental well-being. When asking questions about quality of life for dogs and cats, we aren’t really looking for yes or no answers, as these situations are usually not that black and white.
Things to consider include:
- Social relationships: Are they engaging with members of the household normally, including both people and other animals? Social relationships can be just as important as physical health in determining quality of life for dogs and cats.
- Mental stimulation: Do they respond to their favorite toys, play time, outdoor access, and other forms of mental engagement in a way that is normal for them? If changes have occurred, can we somehow alter these activities to make them accessible and enjoyable in the current circumstance?
- Stressors: What sources of stress exist for your pet (i.e. separation anxiety, boredom, fear of medical treatments)? Can we effectively manage those stressors?
- Sense of control: How much independence or control does your pet have over their circumstances and environment? For example, can they move around when they need or choose to? Can they indicate their preferences about what they want to do and when?
- Health: How are your pet’s health issues affecting their ability to engage in the daily activities of living such as eating, toileting, hygiene, and mobility? Are we able to accommodate changes to their environment and routine to maintain these daily activities of living? Is your pet in pain, and if so, can it be controlled with treatment?
There are multiple quality of life assessments published that can be used, and you may find that a particular one makes more sense to you than others. We’ve included two options below that include and balance the categories for consideration listed above. See which one works best for you, and then repeat that assessment regularly to monitor for trends which could help guide your decision making. Consider keeping a daily log of your assessments, and comparing between caregivers.
A quality of life consultation with a veterinarian can help clarify where your animal is at now, how they might progress, and help develop the framework for decision making around end of life care. Poor quality of life can lead to discussions of humane euthanasia, but there may also be hospice care options available to help improve quality of life for a time (see our hospice and palliative care section for more information).
Most often, there is not an exact right time for dog euthanasia or cat euthanasia, but rather a period of time where it can be an appropriate choice. Some of the factors to consider will be what treatments can be provided to keep your pet comfortable, your physical and financial ability to provide those treatments, and what is most important to you about the circumstances surrounding euthanasia. For instance, an in home pet euthanasia may require a bit of planning and may need to occur a bit earlier in the course of disease. Waiting until there is a sudden decline or crisis may mean that in home euthanasia is not possible as soon as your pet requires and an emergency visit to a veterinary hospital for euthanasia may be required. Think about what your wishes are for the circumstances surrounding your pet’s final moments, and consult with your veterinarian to discuss how best to honour these wishes and support your pet in their transition.
QUALITY OF LIFE CONSULTATIONS
Quality of life consultations can be conducted in our clinic, over the phone, or in the home. It is important to note that for a veterinarian to be able to make any treatment recommendations, a valid veterinary client patient relationship must be established with a physical examination. A phone consultation may still proceed without a physical examination, but no specific treatment recommendations or prescriptions will be possible unless a relationship already exists with our veterinarians.
If you would like to schedule a quality of life consultation, or feel prepared to discuss euthanasia planning, please give our team a call at (403) 532-0085 or email us. Our compassionate and knowledgeable staff are here to help.