I have delayed this subject for a post, not knowing how to approach it at the right time. Turns out there is no right time to discuss assessing the quality of life of your elderly or terminally ill pet. But, I am so often asked how to make this decision by clients and friends, that I thought it was time to share some thoughts and resources that might help guide you or someone you know facing this impossibly difficult decision. So Wendy this is for you, and countless others who haven’t contacted me, but are also wondering when is when. I hope this helps.
I will say first that many people feel strongly about letting their pets pass naturally, without veterinary intervention. This blog is not for them. I perform humane euthanasias when the client and I determine that the decision is to spare the patient of inevitable pain and suffering. The suffering may be psychological, as well as physical. I always ask how someone would feel if they had woken up one day and found that their dog or cat had passed during the night. If a pet has been struggling with a chronic illness, this can be a painful progression. Sometimes the answer to this question is that they would be relieved, but more often, they feel that they had waited too long. It is that type of situation we try to avoid, and an objective referral checklist can help guide you.
Questions to ask yourself:
Would I consider euthanasia if the following were true about my pet:
Can no longer urinate and/or defecate on their own?
Starts to experience seizures?
Has become uncontrollably violent or is unsafe to others?
Has stopped eating?
Is no longer acting normally?
Has a condition that will only worsen with time?
Financial limitations prohibit treatment?
Palliative (hospice) care has been exhausted or is not an option?
Remember how your pet looked and behaved prior to the illness. Sometimes changes are gradual, and therefore hard to recognize. Look at photos or videos from before the illness. Mark good and bad days on a calendar. If the bad days outweigh the good, it may be time to consider euthanasia. Write a concrete list of 3-5 things your pet likes to do. When no longer able to enjoy these things, also consider the option of euthanasia.
The following chart attempts to consider all aspects of your pet’s life. All pets are different, so it is not a one size fits all representation, but more an attempt to quantitate quality of life. Higher numbers on this chart equal a better quality. One item , such as pain, may indicate a poor quality of life, even if many of the other items are still positive.
Assign a number from 1 through 5 to answer each question:
1 = Strongly agree (All the time/severe)
2 = Agree (Most of the time/significant)
3 = Neutral (Sometimes/mild)
4 = Disagree (Occasionally/slight)
5 = Strongly Disagree (Never/None)
Questions: My Pet…
Does not want to play
Does not respond to my presence or does not interact with me in the same way as before
Does not enjoy the same activities as before
Demeanor/behavior is not the same as it was prior to diagnosis/illness
Does not seem to enjoy life
Has more bad days than good days
Is sleeping more than usual
Seems dull and depressed
Seems to be in, or is experiencing pain
Is panting (even while resting)
Is trembling or shaking
Is vomiting and/or seems nauseous
Is not eating well- (may only be eating treats or only if fed by hand)
Is not drinking well
Is losing weight
Is having diarrhea often
Is not moving normally
Is not urinating well
Is not as active as normal
Does not move around as needed
Needs my help to move around normally
Is unable to keep self clean after soiling
Has coat that is greasy, matted, or rough-looking
How is my pet’s overall health compared to the initial diagnosis/illness?
Total the number of answers in the 1 or 2 column. Also, you know your pet better than anyone. Your intuition, combined with a calculation such as this, and with the advice of a trusted veterinarian, should help you make a decision you are comfortable with. Hopefully you are not in need of this information anytime soon, and can refer to it at a much later date. If you need it now, I hope it helps.
Here’s a photo homage to some friends lost this year who will be missed.