Facing the end of your pet’s life is challenging at best, but more likely, heartbreaking. It feels impossible to separate your desire to not allow them to suffer with your own grief of losing them. 

You know that you do not want them to be in pain but also cannot really tell if they are in pain. The following article provides you with some considerations and tools to help guide your decision-making when caring for a beloved pet who is nearing life’s end.

Written by Dr. Gina Singleton, Caring Pathways Veterinarian

Exploring Quality of Life Scales

You may know that there are some tools out there to help with this – one of them is called a quality of life scale. There are several different scales but they all aim to give you a better idea of your pet’s current quality of life. You can look at each question, answer yes or no, or assign a number to each. Looking at these scales frequently – sometimes daily – can help you note any trends that may be happening. This is especially helpful during this time, as it is so common for our loved ones to have good days and bad days towards the end of their life. So you may think one day, it is time to say goodbye and then the next day they feel better! We understand how this feels confusing and frustrating.

Dr. Singleton’s Personal Quality of Life Scale

After working with so many families and their senior pets, I have developed a quality-of-life scale that can help you during this challenging time. This scale (shown below) helps give an overall big picture to all aspects of their lives, not just to assess pain. 

How is your pet’s mobility?

Do they require assistance in walking, or jumping up on beds or couches? Are they able to get up to relieve themselves? 

Is there any gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation? 

Are you able to easily give any medication they might be taking?

Or is it a struggle to get them to take them?

How is their quality of sleep?

Are they able to stay in one spot or position for at least a few hours? Or are there often changes of position or places they want to lie? Are they having any insomnia? 

Are they displaying any anxiety or dementia?

Some signs of this might be pacing, panting, getting lost, more clingy behavior, more aggressive behavior, or hiding. 

Is there any incontinence – either urinary or fecal? 

In thinking about what activities have brought your pet joy in their lives, can they do any of these even in a small amount?

What is YOUR quality of life right now in caring for your pet?

Are you able to sleep, work, get out of the house? Is there constant cleanup that needs to be done? Are any of your relationships with your family or friends suffering?

There are two things I have intentionally left off this list:

One is appetite.

While it is a sign of your pet not feeling well if they are eating less or not eating at all, it is NOT an indication that they are feeling well if they ARE eating. One thing I hear and see all the time is that a pet is still eating, so the family feels that things must be OK. Animals are hard-wired to continue to eat for survival despite illness and pain. I have seen some animals in terrible pain that continue to eat well. 

The other is pain.

Assessing pain in dogs and cats (especially cats!) can be very difficult. Some of the above questions will give clues to this – pacing, panting, poor mobility and poor quality of sleep are a few. There are several Caring Pathways blogs that talk about this in more detail: 

elderly pets

Unique Considerations for Cats

Much of the above list can be applied to both dogs and cats, but cats do have a secret, special language of their own, so it can often be harder to determine if they are suffering.

A few clues for our kitties are:

  • Rapid and significant weight loss
  • Lack of grooming
  • Becoming much more or less affectionate 
  • There is also something called a grimace scale that we use for cats to help assess whether or not they may be in pain

Support Through Every Step

At Caring Pathways, we understand navigating this part of your pet’s life can be painful and difficult. We are committed to helping your family navigate this journey. 

Helpful Caring Pathways Resources:

About the Author: Gina Singleton, DVM

Dr. Gina started her veterinary career at 16 years of age, working in a small animal hospital in Virginia. She continued to work in many veterinary hospitals in several states doing just about every job she could. From becoming a receptionist to eventually becoming a veterinarian. 

Gina joined Caring Pathways in September 2020, having just moved back from Maine in August. She is more than excited to have done so. Having been in general practice for so many years, she found that her favorite part of her job was working with senior pets and their human companions.

Although the end-of-life decision can be very difficult, she finds that this ultimate act of love that a human can give to their beloved pet is an honor to be a part of.

Gina Singleton
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