Euthanasia and Quality of Life Assessment

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Euthanasia can be a very difficult, emotional, and uncomfortable topic to think about. But when a pet is suffering from a painful or debilitating condition, it is one of the most loving and humane things we can do for them.

Why Euthanasia?

As caretakers we make decisions about our pets’ lifestyles, activities, and health, but we sometimes forget that we may need to make end of life decisions down the road. It is a misconception that most pets pass away on their own at home – unfortunately it’s not that simple and often isn’t the case.

Animals are incredibly resilient, so it can take much longer than we realize for them to succumb to illness. By the time a pet passes away at home, they have likely endured prolonged illness, pain, and even suffering. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Euthanasia allows us to minimize a pet’s suffering and give them a quick, painless and more dignified passing – especially once we know that there’s nothing more that can be done medically to treat an illness or improve a pet’s quality of life.

What is Quality of Life?

Quality of life is a term that’s often used in the veterinary world to describe a pet’s overall well-being. It encompasses a variety of physical, mental and behavioral factors that help us get a better sense of whether a pet is happy, declining, in pain or experiencing any degree of suffering.

While pets can’t tell us how they feel, there are typically signs that indicate when a pet’s health and/or quality of life is diminished.

Even when you know that your pet no longer has an optimal quality of life, it can be extremely difficult to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

Performing a quality of life assessment and keeping a daily activity log can be really helpful. These practices allow you to gauge your pet’s health and well-being in a more objective way.

Seek Support From Your Veterinarian

Speak with your veterinarian and seek support regarding your pet’s end of life discussions. They can answer any questions you have about euthanasia, provide you with additional resources, and talk through the options available to help improve your pet’s quality of life.

Even if you’re not ready to euthanize, your veterinarian can help you come up with a palliative care plan to keep your pet as comfortable as possible.

Euthanizing a pet is one of the most difficult decisions to make, even when you know it’s the right decision. It’s important that you feel informed, empowered, and supported so that you can make the best decision possible for both you and your pet.

Quality of Life Assessment and Daily Activity Chart

Each category below represents one of the factors that make up a pet’s quality of life. Using the scale provided, please rate each category, then add up the total to get your pet’s current quality of life score. Record the scores in the accompanying chart.

  1. Nutrition
    0 = Pet is eating and drinking normally
    1 = Pet is eating and drinking but less than normal. Requires assistance eating, such as hand feeding, tempting (with toppers, human food or treats) or the use of an appetite stimulant
    2 = Pet isn’t eating at all
  2. Behavior/Sociability
    0 = Pet is bright, alert, aware of their surroundings and interacts normally with family members and other pets in the household
    1 = Pet is interacting less with family members and/or other pets, acting out of character (ie. normally barks whenever someone is at the door, but has stopped doing so) or has suddenly become more aggressive
    2 = Pet is dull/depressed, minimally responsive to stimuli or unaware of their surroundings; has minimal interaction with family members or pets
  3. Mobility
    0 = Pet can get around well on their own
    1 = Pet has difficulty getting up, going up and down steps and/or posturing to urinate and/or defecate
    2 = Pet is generally non-ambulatory, needs assistance walking or has pain that isn’t well managed with the use of anti-inflammatory or pain medications
  4. Toileting
    0 = Pet is urinating and defecating normally
    1 = Pet has irregular bowel movements or urination
    2 = Pet has frequent accidents in the house or is soiling themselves or is not having any bowel movements
  5. Pain
    0 = Pet is comfortable
    1 = Pet has some discomfort; pet may pant more than usual, be less mobile or have a decreased appetite
    2 = Pet is painful; whines or cries, lays in the same place or is hesitant to go out for walks
  6. Enjoyment
    0 = Pet still shows interest in their favorite things
    1 = Pet is showing less interest in the things they enjoy
    2 = Pet shows no interest in their favorite things

Scoring

If the total score is 5 or less your pet has a good quality of life.

A score of 6-8 suggests a diminished quality of life. You should speak with your veterinarian about the options available for making your pet more comfortable.

If the total score is 9-12, your pet’s quality of life is significantly compromised. They are likely suffering and it is highly recommended that you speak with your veterinarian about end of life preparations.

Since pets can have “good” and “bad” days, it can be helpful to assess your pet’s quality of life daily over a period of time. Download the chart below to log your pet’s daily quality of life using the indicators above. If you find that your pet is having more bad days than good, it may be time to think about euthanasia and end-of-life care.

You can also download Lap of Love’s Greymuzzle app on your phone for an interactive calendar.

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