A quality of life (QOL) assessment is important as your pet ages to optimize their comfort and happiness. Senior pets require special care when age-related issues cause health complications, which you must be able to recognize, and understand how they will impact your pet’s QOL. Our Town & Country Animal Hospital team wants to help by providing tips to assess your senior pet’s QOL.
#1: Schedule regular senior pet wellness screenings
Senior pets are at higher risk for age-related health complications, such as cancer, diabetes, cognitive dysfunction, kidney disease, and arthritis, and should be screened by a veterinary professional every six months to detect these issues before they cause significant problems. A typical senior pet wellness screening involves:
- Weight assessment — Many senior pets are overweight, and carrying excess weight increases their risk for certain health conditions and hinders their mobility and breathing. Our veterinary team will weigh your pet, evaluate their body conditioning score (BCS) to determine their weight status, and devise a weight loss strategy to help your pet safely lose the excess weight, if necessary.
- Physical examination — Our veterinary team examines your pet thoroughly from head to tail looking for abnormalities. Conditions that can be detected during a routine physical examination include cataracts, heart murmurs or arrhythmias, dental disease, abdominal masses, and joint pain.
- Screening blood work — We will perform a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile to detect conditions such as anemia, infection, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes.
- Thyroid testing — Senior pets are at increased risk for thyroid disease, and our veterinary team may recommend testing your pet for the disease.
- Urinalysis — We will evaluate your pet’s urine to help detect conditions such as urinary tract infections, diabetes, urinary crystals, and kidney disease.
- Fecal check — Our veterinary team will evaluate your pet’s feces to check for parasites, which can cause concerning health complications in senior pets.
#2: Consult a pet quality of life scale
Several QOL scales can help you objectively assess your pet’s QOL. The HHHHHMM scale, which measures seven variables and assigns each a 1 to 10 score, is used most commonly. The scores from the seven variables are totaled, and an overall score greater than 35 indicates your pet’s QOL is acceptable. If your pet scores below 35, you should discuss their condition with your veterinarian. HHHHHMM scale variables include:
- Hurt — You must assess your pet’s pain level and ability to breathe. Consider if they need pain medications, if the pain medication effectively controls their pain, and if they need supplemental oxygen.
- Hunger — You should determine if your pet is eating enough to meet their nutritional needs, and if steps such as hand feeding will encourage food intake. You should also determine if your pet needs a feeding tube.
- Hydration — You must determine if your pet is drinking enough to remain hydrated and, if not, consider whether you can administer subcutaneous fluids.
- Hygiene — You should determine if you are able to keep your pet clean and dry to prevent skin irritation, bedsores, and infection.
- Happiness — You must consider if your pet exhibits joy and interest in daily activities, or if they are depressed, anxious, or afraid.
- Mobility — If your pet has mobility issues, you should determine if you can assist them when necessary. In addition, if your pet is bed-ridden, you must determine if turning them every two hours to prevent bedsores is possible.
- More good days than bad — You must keep track of your pet’s good and bad days, so you know when their QOL is compromised.
#3: Keep a quality of life pet journal
Use the HHHHHMM scale each day to assess your pet, and detail these variables and any other pertinent information in a daily journal, so you can reflect on any changes. You can also mark a calendar with a happy face to indicate a good day or a sad face to indicate a bad day to easily visualize your pet’s QOL progression. When your pet is experiencing more bad days than good, their QOL is compromised, and you should consult our veterinary team about what is best for your pet.
#4: Assess your quality of life
Taking care of an ailing pet can be extremely difficult and stressful, and you should be cognizant of how you are affected. Questions to ask yourself include:
- How much time is required to take care of my pet, and do I have the time to spare?
- What are the financial ramifications of caring for my pet, and do I have the necessary funds?
- How will my responsibilities, such as my job, spouse, or children, be affected while caring for my pet.
- Do I have friends and family members willing to help me care for my pet?
Assessing your QOL does not diminish your love for your pet. This exercise helps you consider your priorities, and determine the sacrifices you are willing to make. You must not neglect your own physical and mental health to care for your pet.
Following these tips should help you accurately assess your senior pet’s QOL. However, if you are concerned about your pet’s QOL, contact our Town and Country Animal Hospital team, and we can help ensure that they are comfortable and happy.
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