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Understanding Quality of Life Issues with Dogs

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Along with every other living creature, pets age. And with this age comes illness and difficulty. Determining when your pet's life is no longer enjoyable can be difficult and is an important part of deciding when to let him go.

Quality of life is a personal judgment and will vary from individual to individual. You know your beloved pet better than anyone. For most pet owners the issue of quality of life greatly influences the decision concerning euthanasia. And while your veterinarian can guide you with objective information about diseases, and even provide a personal perspective of a disease condition, the final decision about euthanasia rests with you.

What Aging or Ailing Pets Should Be Able To Do

If you are concerned about your pet's quality of life, here are some guidelines. Elderly pets (or pets with chronic or incurable diseases) that are given proper medication and care should be able to:

  • Eat, drink and sleep comfortably without shortness of breath.
  • Act interested in what's going on around them.
  • Do mild exercise without collapse or profound exhaustion.
  • Appear comfortable and free of moderate to severe pain.
  • Have control of their urine and bowel movements - unless the disease affects one of these organ systems.

    Of course, whenever there is a chronic condition, some days will be better than others and one should learn to expect the natural "ups and downs" that attend most chronic disease conditions or the aging process. You must determine what balance is acceptable for your own situation. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet's condition.

    When Quality of Life Diminishes

    At some point, your dog's life may not be pleasant or enjoyable. The deterioration of vital functions results in a dog that is less resilient and is often too tired to participate in activities with the family. Here are some guidelines that may help you determine if your pet's quality of life has diminished to the point that euthanasia may be the kindest gift.

  • Your dog becomes very tired or exhausted with mild exertion. He cannot even walk from one room to the next without collapsing.

  • Despite a normal appetite, your dog is unable to maintain his body weight.

  • Elderly dogs may experience pain, resulting in potentially aggressive tendencies. Some dogs may become aggressive due to changes in their mental status.

  • Excessive crying or howling may indicate pain, confusion, delirium or even seizures.

  • Your dog may no longer maintain control over his bodily functions and urinates or defecates on himself.

  • Your dog may completely stop eating anything you offer.

  • Some dogs may become restless.

  • Uncontrollable seizures, breathing distress and continually vomiting or diarrhea are other signs that the quality of your pet's life has drastically diminished.

    If your dog is experiencing any of these signs, speak to your veterinarian. Medication may help or it may be time to either begin hospice care or consider euthanasia.

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