Thinking about the quality of life of our pets if they are nearing the end is an incredibly hard thing to do and it can be a very emotional time for many reasons. Euthanasia is described as a ‘gentle and easy death’ and is something that all pet owners will have to face at some point. If you have a poorly pet, an older pet, or one that is perhaps starting to find life a little too much, hopefully this article can help to give you some useful factual information to help you assess your pet’s quality of life.
When assessing quality of life, it’s important to remember that pets live in the moment, rather than thinking about the future. Their brains work a little differently from humans – we have the cognitive ability to understand what is happening to us and whether we will get better or not, whereas pets rely on us to make that call for them. Many people feel that deciding to euthanise their pet is the last kind thing that they are able to do for them.
The first thing to consider is how do you feel about your pet’s current condition? Are you often worried about them, or often feeling like something isn’t right? Take time to be honest with yourself about whether you are delaying a decision because it is too upsetting to consider losing your pet – anticipatory grief is very real and it’s completely normal to subconsciously put off things that we know will be upsetting or difficult.
Next, consider your pet’s health status – Do they have an incurable condition or are they terminally ill? Some pets might have long term health conditions that mean they need a lot of medical intervention, and whilst lots of pets cope very well with this, some don’t cope well and find medical procedures or trips to the vets very stressful. Considering what your pet may be able to cope with is an important part of considering their overall quality of life.
Considering pain is also very important. Chronic pain can cause lots of physiological and mental difficulties, and if pain can no longer be controlled, then this can be a very clear indicator that quality of life is not so good. Sometimes, controlling pain can be done with medication and sometimes a change in medication can make quite a bit difference, so it’s worth having a quick chat with your vet about this as well as considering the pain signs you might be seeing at home.
Is your pet eating, drinking and toileting normally? Being able to carry out normal daily functions such as eating, drinking and toileting is an important part of having a good quality of life. For example: A pet that was previously a food lover may go off their food if they are feeling very poorly. Keeping a close eye on eating, drinking and toileting habits can help you to put the pieces of the puzzle together when you are assessing different aspects of your pet’s quality of life. It’s also important to remember that a sudden obsession with drinking, or sudden big increase in appetite can be as much of a concern as a lack of eating or drinking, so it’s worth flagging this up to you vet if it happens.
Can your pet move around OK? Being able to get up to move around is important for quality of life – some pets may become distressed if they are unable to get outside for the toilet, or if they have an accident in the house, and it is important to consider this source of stress when you are thinking about whether they are coming towards the end. General mobility is important too – being able to wander outside into the sunshine, or for a short slow walk is important for wellbeing for our pets so if they can’t do this then it may indicate that their quality of life has perhaps decreased.
Other things you can consider are behavioural patterns such as engagement with you, whether your pet is still giving you the usual level of affection, whether they appear to be confused at all or whether there are any sudden changes in their sleeping. Older pets often do sleep more, but sudden changes – including a sudden inability to settle or get proper sleep – can indicate a problem. This is particularly relevant if you have noticed that the changes in sleep, or other behaviour, coincides with other signs such as being in pain.
Whilst it’s difficult, sometimes looking at things a little more objectively can help. For that reason, we have developed a wonderful checklist that can help you look at the different aspects of your pet’s life and make an assessment about their quality of life. The checklist is available here https://cloud9vets.co.uk/vet-services/quality-of-life-assessment/ It’s free to download and print, and will help you to work out if there is a concern with your pet’s quality of life. You might like to fill it out with a friend or family member who is perhaps less emotionally attached to your pet, so that they can help support you, and you could even take the completed checklist to your vet with you so that they can chat this through with you.
Finally, mental health is talked about now more than ever before – it’s OK if you are struggling with this, or if you struggle after the loss of a pet. The Blue Cross provides a pet bereavement service which may help you to manage your feelings around this time. It’s normal to find the time surrounding the end of a pet’s life difficult, and you may experience a whole range of emotions from guilt to incredible sadness. It’s so important to reach out if you feel you need some support. Blue Cross have some resources that may help and support you Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service | Pet Loss