While I’ve been doing my due diligence and reading everything I can get my hands on about treating canine cancer, I’ve noticed the term “quality of life” comes up a lot. How do you define quality of life? How do you know when your pet’s quality of life has declined to the point that it is time to let them go?
In my pile of books I did find one (The Dog Cancer Survival Guide) that attempted to define and measure quality of life in dogs. It broke the “quality of life” concept down into bite-sized chunks of the things that we think our pets enjoy. When one or more of these things is compromised because of age, illness or injury, quality of life is diminished. It is up to the individual pawrent to decide when to when to pursue a treatment or euthanize a pet, but this broken down way to quantify the of the quality of life can be useful in making decisions by employing a more scientific and less emotional scale to measure your pet’s true quality of life. It is only intended as a tool to help with decision making, not as a definitive guide of when to help your pet move on.
Dr. Dressler breaks down quality of life into 6 sections:
Eating and Drinking: What dog doesn’t enjoy wolfing down a good meal? Pain or illness can diminish this joy in life, but occasionally there are ways to help regain this joy through medications or even a simple raised feeder dog dish to make them more comfortable.
Relationships (both human and canine): Dogs are social animals. They have a pack that can include both humans and canines. If he is no longer able to enjoy the company of others, he is no longer able to enjoy being a social animal and thus this quality is diminished. Even if your dog is no longer able to run, wrestle and play, take time to interact with him using puzzle toys and soft gentle dog massage so he still feels like a part of the pack.
Movement: most dogs (not all, some can be amazingly lazy) enjoy going for a walk, sprint, or just a quick jog around the yard. If your dog is no longer able to make it from point A to point B on his own, this quality has diminished for him. Again, there are some tools that can help your pet regain mobility. You can try physical therapy, senior dog supplements, or buy special dog wheelchair or support harness to help your pet get around.
Play: I have never met a dog that didn’t like playing of some kind. Maybe it was toys, maybe it was wrestling, but a happy healthy dog loves to play. Pain, illness, or injury (whether permanent or temporary) can impact a dog’s ability to play. If you pet isn’t able to play the same way they used to, try puzzle dog toys and easy low-impact training with play to keep their mind occupied and satisfied.
Normal bodily functions: let’s face it. If your dog is unable to go outside to the bathroom or eliminate on his own, he is probably uncomfortable. If your dog is having trouble breathing or regulating body temperature, he is uncomfortable. Don’t take the joy of basic bodily functions for granted.
I would add one more:
Your dog’s specific joy: Each of my dogs has at least one activity that they enjoy above all others. For Barret, it is fetching his red ball. Sara can almost always be found chomping on an elk antler in her crate. Gatsby enjoys nothing more than going for a hike in the woods with my husband. I think that each dog’s specific joy is important. Most of these relate to one of the 6 “joys of life”, but maybe that particular joy for your particular dog is more important than some of the others and is important to consider.
So, how do you when it is time to put your dog to sleep? The truth is it really varies upon the individual dog and pawrent. Some people are willing to go to extremes to extend a pet’s life, utilizing any treatment or tool available to them. Others don’t want their pet to suffer at all and consider euthanizing a pet to be more humane than treatment. In my experience your pet and your heart will tell you when the time is right for your pet to cross the rainbow bridge.
Written with love for all the pawrents in the world with elderly, sick or injured pets: my heart is with you,