When is it time? Quality of life

What is my pet’s quality of life and when do you know it is time, are easily the most difficult questions any pet owner will ever have to ask themselves.  This small fluffy friend has grown up with us, through the trials and tribulations of puppy or kitten mischief and into everyone’s best friend.  They have been present with major life milestones, helped us through hard times and great times, some may have traveled the world with us whereas others have greeted us at the door each day when we return home.  Now though we notice changes, like the dignified grey muzzle or taking longer naps in the sunbeams and realize that they aren’t as young as they used to be.  As we all go through the path of life, aging occurs to both us owners and our best friends and companions.   So how can we help through these next life stages and ultimately know when its time to say goodbye?


As our pets age, their physiological needs change and therefore what their visit to the vet clinic may look like may change as well.  These changes may include added or new preventive and/or diagnostics tests and treatment protocols that are customized to meet the changing needs of each of our individualized pets.


Senior pet care often involves a multi-layered approach to help diagnose and address the aging pet.  Physical exams with additional diagnostics such as bloodwork, urine tests, cytology and radiographs can help diagnose pathological changes and disease that affect our senior pet’s overall quality of life.  Supplements, nutrition, medication, surgical procedures, environmental modification and more can help keep our senior pets having an excellent ongoing quality of life throughout their senior years.  Contact the clinic to ask about or book a senior pet exam.


Tips for senior care to help maintain and strengthen the human-animal bonds and quality of life:


  • Use of gripped rugs/yoga mats or toe grips to allow better footing.
  • Ramps for stairs or into litter boxes
  • Elevating food and water bowls.
  • Increased padding in bedding
  • Regular grooming and nail care
  • Clean and dry bedding, skin and coat
  • Decreased mobility requires addition nursing care (help walking or turning on bedding every few hours, monitoring for pressure sores)
  • Activities such as creating a joy-of-living list or a bucket list and setting up pet dates

Despite doing all we can for our pets, we are still ultimately faced with the hard question of when it is time to consider euthanasia and how do we know?  Below is an example of a quality-of-life scale that can be used as a guide to help assess where our senior pets are at.

Quality-of-Life Scale:

Each of the following categories gets a score of 0-10 (0 struggling, 10 no current issues).  Over 5 is acceptable in each category, less than 5 displays aspects that need to be addressed, and a total score of 35 or more is acceptable quality of life)

Hurt – Exhibiting signs of pain or distress. Any difficulties breathing?  Are we able to manage the pain?

Hunger – Eating enough to meet caloric needs?  Muscle loss or wasting?

Hydration – Able to keep up with hydration? Supplemental subcutaneous fluids, Purina hydracare, flavouring waters

Hygiene – Grooming and brushing.  Any urine or fecal soiling?  Pressure sores or wounds being addressed.

Happiness – What things they liked to do (car rides, walks, sleep in the sun, toys)? Are they hiding or avoiding the family?

Mobility – Are they able to get around with or without assistance (sling, cart)?  Do they want to go for walks?

Good days vs. bad – keep tract on calendar and reassess frequently.  Too many bad days in a row indicate compromised quality of life and that the end is near.


Each of our senior pets requires a specific plan tailored to meet their needs.  But unfortunately, there is a point where all the attention, love, medication, food, and therapies are not enough to allow an acceptable quality of life.  Saying goodbye is emotionally devastating and even after, one still may have doubts if it was the right decision.  Our veterinarians can help guide you and be an advocate for your pet on their quality of life.  Talk to our clinic about a quality-of-life exam and/or the euthanasia process and end-of-life options.