An aging pet tugs at your heartstrings, challenging you to objectively evaluate their health, comfort, and happiness. Assessing your senior pet’s quality of life (QOL), particularly if they have a chronic condition, is necessary as they age. Read our Central Houston Animal Hospital team’s guide to monitoring your senior pet’s QOL over time, and learn to recognize when their deterioration level has become unbearable.

What conditions might cause my senior pet’s QOL to deteriorate?

As your pet ages, they will likely develop one or more chronic conditions that can decrease their QOL. Your senior pet may develop one or more of these common health issues:

  • Osteoarthritis — Pain and impaired mobility take a great toll on your senior pet’s health, especially as the disease progresses.
  • Metabolic and endocrine disorders — Diseases, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Cushing’s disease, often cause senior pets significant problems, which can be difficult to manage. 
  • Cognitive dysfunction — Cognitive dysfunction affects more than your senior pet’s mental capacity. As your pet becomes confused and disoriented, they can also become scared, stressed, and anxious, which negatively impacts their life.
  • Organ disease — Aging pets experience an organ function decline, and often develop organ diseases such as heart or liver disease, and chronic renal failure. You and your veterinarian can often successfully manage these conditions for some time, but your pet’s health will eventually decline.
  • Cancer — Almost half of dogs older than age 10 will develop cancer, and researchers estimate that roughly the same number of cats will develop the disease as well. However, feline cancers often go undiagnosed. While some cancers are treatable, others are not, and palliative care is the only option in some cases.

How can I assess my senior pet’s QOL?

Assessing your senior pet’s QOL while trying to remain objective is challenging. To help you evaluate your pet’s happiness and health, use the QOL scale developed by Dr. Alice Villalobos, which covers seven different aspects of your pet’s wellbeing. For each parameter, you assign a score of 1 through 10. If your pet’s total is 35 or greater, their QOL is acceptable. The QOL scale helps you evaluate these QOL categories:

  • Hurt — Adequate pain control is a must for many debilitating conditions that affect senior pets. Many pain relief options exist, such as medications, surgery, acupuncture, chiropractic care, laser therapy, hydrotherapy, and physical rehabilitation.
  • Hunger — If your pet is unable or unwilling to eat enough to receive adequate nutrition, you may need to hand-feed them. If hand-feeding is not enough to entice your pet to eat, syringe feeding or tube feeding may be necessary.
  • Hydration — If your pet does not drink enough water, they may perk up when you provide them with a drinking fountain. If your pet continues to refuse water, your veterinarian may recommend administering fluids under the skin, which are often well-tolerated and are extremely effective for alleviating dehydration.
  • Hygiene — If your pet is unable to walk and posture well enough to urinate and defecate in their designated appropriate areas, you may face extreme difficulties keeping them clean. To help avoid having to fully bathe your pet, you can use waterless shampoo to spot clean their soiled body areas. In addition, shaving away long fur can prevent matting and skin infections. 
  • Happiness — Does your pet still have that spark in their eyes? Are they happy to see you when you come home? Or, does your pet hide and avoid most interactions? Help your pet feel they are still part of the family by ensuring their necessary resources (i.e., food, water, bedding, litter box) are available in the room where your family spends the most time. 
  • Mobility — Mobility devices are important when you have a large dog who has ambulatory issues. A harness, sling, cart, or wagon can be a useful resource to help move your pet from place to place, such as to the yard to do their business. These devices are key to maintaining your pet’s happiness and hygiene.
  • More good days than bad — You know your pet best. If they seem to be having more bad days than good, their QOL is compromised. Nausea, diarrhea, seizures, severe anxiety, overwhelming pain, difficulty breathing, or inappetence can cause bad days. 

In addition to assessing your senior pet’s QOL when they are facing advanced age or a disease process, take into account your feelings. Are you struggling with difficult emotions seeing your beloved pet decline? Is it a challenge to physically care for your senior pet, whether administering medication, assisting them with their mobility, or providing basic hygiene? When evaluating your senior pet’s QOL, you should also consider your mental and physical comfort if your four-legged friend has a challenging condition. Ensure you assess your ability to continue caring for your senior or ill pet. 

Evaluating your senior pet’s QOL can be difficult to perform on your own. Schedule an appointment with our Central Houston Animal Hospital team for assistance with assessing your pet’s happiness and comfort.