When most people hear the phrase quality of life, they think of how these words apply to human life. However, your aging pet’s quality of life (QOL) is equally important. Similar to humans, pets slow down and become more susceptible to health issues as they age, but your aging pet cannot voice their pain and discomfort. Because pets often mask their initial discomfort, pet owners must learn to monitor and assess their pet’s behavior to ensure their beloved companions enjoy a comfortable, pain-free life. A veterinarian-created and -endorsed QOL scale is a powerful tool to help pet owners assess their furry pal’s comfort and happiness, and to determine whether their four-legged friends are suffering. To help you assess your senior pet’s QOL, our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team describes this invaluable tool in-depth. 

What does quality of life mean for pets?

QOL has a different meaning to each person. To assess your pet’s QOL requires reflecting on their current lifestyle, and determining whether their basic physical and emotional needs are being met. Knowing how to assess your pet’s QOL is essential to help prevent your beloved companion’s prolonged and unnecessary suffering. However, assessing your pet’s QOL can be challenging when you are so close to them and see them every day. In addition, the emotional connection you share with your pet makes objectively assessing their QOL difficult, and so, to obtain a more accurate view of your pet’s current state of being, many veterinarians suggest using a QOL quantifiable scoring scale. 

What does a quality-of-life scale evaluate in my pet?

The hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, more good days than bad (HHHHHMM) QOL scale—created by Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP—is one of the most common pet wellbeing assessment tools. By considering each of the scale’s seven wellness categories, and scoring your pet on each of these factors on a 0-to-10 scale, you can evaluate your pet’s total QOL:

  • Hurt — Because pets often suffer in silence, you need to be able to recognize your beloved companion’s physical pain signs. Consider whether your pet is showing the following signs:
    • Lethargy
    • Decreased appetite
    • Antisocial behavior
    • Increased irritability
    • Reluctance to be touched 
    • Increased vocalization 
    • Incessant paw licking
    • Stiffness or limping
    • Body posture changes
    • Shaking or trembling 

A variety of medications can provide your pet pain relief for an extended time, but pain medications and alternative therapies are not cure-alls. If pain-relieving treatments are no longer effectively keeping your pet comfortable, your four-legged friend is suffering.

  • Hunger — As with humans, pets who are suffering may become reluctant to eat. If your pet’s appetite suddenly changes, consult with your veterinarian, as inappetence could signal an underlying condition. If medication cannot stimulate your pet’s appetite, measures such as a feeding tube may be necessary to prevent malnutrition. 
  • Hydration —  Dehydration causes pets to feel weak, tired, and disoriented. If your senior pet is not drinking enough water or is losing fluids because of a medical condition, your veterinarian may recommend subcutaneous fluid therapy.
  • Hygiene – Hygiene is the ability to keep clean and tidy, an indicator of a pet’s overall health. Pets with decreased mobility and elimination issues may have problems staying clean. Hygiene is a factor in your pet’s overall comfort, and you must consider this factor when assessing their QOL.
  • Happiness — While considering your pet’s physical needs is essential to assessing their QOL, their emotional needs, such as their ability to enjoy the activities that bring them joy, are equally important.

  • Mobility — Many senior pets have difficulty moving around on their own, and require assistance to stand, eat, drink, and eliminate. When a pet’s mobility decreases, their fitness to move around the house becomes limited, as does their ability to experience their environment. An immobile pet’s hygiene can also suffer, as you may have difficulties keeping them clean. In addition, pets who are immobile can develop pressure sores if they are not regularly turned from side to side.
  • More good days than bad —  When assessing your senior pet’s QOL over time, consider whether the good days outnumber the bad. Once the balance shifts, and your pet begins experiencing more bad days than good, recognize that your beloved companion’s  mortality is nearing.

If you have been wondering whether your senior pet’s wellbeing is diminishing, focus on the HHHHHMM scale’s seven health factors to assess your beloved companion’s QOL. If you are unsure whether you are objectively evaluating your pet’s QOL, talk with our qualified veterinary professionals, who will provide you with an earnest recommendation that supports your furry friend’s wellbeing. If you have questions or need help evaluating your senior pet’s QOL, schedule an appointment with our Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek team.