Often in our roles as caregivers we are called upon to make decisions about our pets well-being.
Sometimes these decisions are routine and fairly simple such as where they will sleep, how they will be trained, or who will feed them. Other choices, that we make for their well-being, require more thought or possibly veterinary help. These are things like what they should eat, how they should be vaccinated, what regular care and exercise they need.
Less frequently there are more difficult choices that need to be made for our pets. These difficult decisions are mostly about quality of life.
Quality of life is talked about a lot these days in the media and can refer to emotional, social, financial or physical well-being. As veterinarians, we are focused on physical well-being. My favourite definition of animal quality of life is an ability to enjoy the activities of a normal day. Many pets are great actors and can make it through their day with little complaining or whining even if it hurts.
A pet that does not show any obvious signs of discomfort can put caregivers in the tough spot of not knowing when their pets have stopped enjoying normal daily activities. This is why we have started using recognized professional quality of life assessments at our clinic.
These assessments score various aspects of a pet’s daily life and these scores are added to give a final number. We use them in clinic to monitor the progress of our hospitalized patients, we use them during exams to help understand how much discomfort or suffering a pet is enduring and we train clients how to use them at home to monitor their at risk pets.
Our goal with these assessments is to more accurately decide when and how we can improve a pet’s enjoyment of life. If our assessment finds that the quality of life does not score high enough, pet caregivers and their trusted veterinary professionals can decide how to improve things or can decide that it is kinder to end the suffering.
As veterinarians, we are trained to diagnose, treat and prevent health problems in animals. We know that quality of life decisions are important, difficult decisions surrounded by a lot of emotions. Objectifying, or putting a number on, the ability to enjoy daily activities removes the worry of when is the right time to get help and avoids either unnecessary suffering or making decisions too soon.
In the end, our goal as pet caregivers, either in the home or as professionals in the clinic, is to help pets achieve the longest, healthiest and happiest life possible.
Dr. Katharine North is a veterinarian at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic.