Pets age much faster than people, putting them at increased risk for many health complications at a younger age. Detecting these issues in the early stages, when treatment is likely more successful, and to alleviate any discomfort and pain as soon as possible, is important for their quality of life (QOL). Our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team knows you want your pet to enjoy their life, and we share tips to help you assess your senior pet’s QOL.
No. 1: Schedule routine wellness examinations for your senior pet
Pets don’t like to exhibit vulnerabilities, and they frequently hide illness and pain until their condition is advanced, complicating treatment. All pets should be evaluated by a veterinary professional at least once a year, and senior pets, who are at higher risk for health complications, should be examined every six months. These examinations are critical to help detect conditions, such as:
- Cataracts — Changes to your pet’s lens commonly occur as they age, and pets can acclimate to the resultant vision loss if the changes are gradual. Our veterinary team fully assesses your pet’s eyes during a wellness screening to ensure their sight is not impaired.
- Cancer — Abnormalities found on blood work and masses found during a physical examination can indicate your pet has cancer. Cancer patients have many treatment options, and typically have a better prognosis when the condition is detected early.
- Thyroid disease — Hypothyroidism is common in senior dogs, and hyperthyroidism is common in senior cats. Our veterinary team may recommend a thyroid panel to determine if your pet is affected.
- Organ disease — We commonly run a biochemistry panel as part of a routine senior wellness examination. Abnormalities we see on this test can indicate kidney or liver disease.
No. 2: Monitor your senior pet’s weight
Unexplained weight loss is commonly one of the first indicators that a pet is sick, but seeing your pet daily can make detecting changes difficult. Evaluate your pet’s weight status monthly, so you know if they lose or gain weight.
- Weigh your pet — Use a pet scale to accurately measure your pet’s weight, and keep a journal so you can detect changes.
- Evaluate your pet’s body condition score (BCS) — Some pets lose muscle mass as they age, and their BCS is a useful tool to help determine their weight status.
No. 3: Monitor your senior pet for activity or behavior changes
Changes in your pet’s regular activity or behavior can indicate health problems. If your dog stops jumping on the couch, or your cat stops using their litter box, these behaviors may indicate a medical condition. Potential issues include:
- Arthritis — Arthritis causes joint pain and inflammation, and is extremely common in senior pets. Signs include lack of enthusiasm for physical activity, difficulty navigating stairs, reluctance to jump on or off surfaces, increased irritability, and stiffness after resting.
- Cognitive dysfunction — Similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, cognitive dysfunction affects a pet’s ability to remember and learn. Common signs include increased anxiety, sleep pattern changes, confusion, forgetting voice commands, hiding, uncharacteristic aggression, and house soiling.
- Hearing or vision loss — Hearing or vision impairment can lead to changes in your pet’s activity or behavior. Changes may include lack of response to training commands, clumsiness, and increased time spent sleeping.
No. 4: Assess your senior pet using a quality of life scale
Objectively determining your pet’s QOL can be difficult, but a QOL scale can help you evaluate their comfort and happiness. The scale assesses seven factors, rating them on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being ideal. An overall score greater than 35 indicates your pet’s QOL is acceptable to continue care. Categories evaluated include:
- Hurt — Assess your pet’s pain level and ability to breathe.
- Hunger — Determine if your pet can eat enough to meet their nutritional needs.
- Hydration — Determine if your pet drinks enough to remain hydrated, or whether they need supplemental fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Hygiene — Assess your pet’s ability to keep themselves clean, and if not, decide whether you can maintain their hygiene.
- Happiness — Determine if your pet experiences joy in life when interacting with you and your family.
- Mobility — Assess your pet’s ability to move, and determine if you can assist them if their mobility is impaired.
- More good days than bad — Once your pet’s bad days start outnumbering their good ones, you should consult our veterinary team so we can develop a plan to ensure they do not suffer.
No. 5: Track your pet’s quality of life
Taking care of an ailing pet is not easy, yet many people have a hard time saying goodbye. Tracking your pet’s QOL and knowing when their bad days start to outnumber their good ones can help. Recommendations include:
- Keep a journal — Note your pet’s QOL score in a daily journal. You can also list their specific activities and behaviors, such as “ate well today” or “wasn’t interested in a favorite toy.”
- Create a visual calendar — Find stickers, such as a happy face and a frowny face, to represent your pet’s good and bad days, and place them on a wall calendar to visualize their QOL progress.
Following these tips should help you to objectively assess your aging pet’s quality of life and prevent pain and suffering. If you would like to schedule a wellness examination for your senior pet, contact our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team, so we can help you determine their quality of life.