Euthanasia is the worst word in the English language if you’re an animal lover. But if you’ve ever waited too long to say goodbye to your dog or cat, you have to read this story. Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice has developed a Quality of Life Scale to help you evaluate your pet’s health as they age and get sick.
Part of the reality of having a paralyzed dog is knowing their health is compromised. Their wheelchairs, harnesses and diapers are a constant reminder of that fact. But with the Quality of Life scoring tools, you’ll have a better understanding about the final stages of your dog’s life.
Who is Lap of Love
Founded by Dani McVety, DVM and Mary Gardner, DVM, Lap of Love is the largest network of veterinarians dedicated to end of life veterinary care. All of their services are given in your home.
They provide medically supervised hospice care and at home euthanasia for terminally ill and senior pets.
Dr. McVety and Dr. Gardner explained their role isn’t easy, but they do this form of veterinary care, “Because it is an honor.”
“We are animal lovers too, we have dedicated our lives to helping the creatures we share this planet with. And yes, we know what if feels like to lose a family member…grief is grief, no matter what species it is.”
Outward signs to determine quality of life
Assessing your dog’s quality of life is complex. But most pet parents are told to watch for basic signs such as pain or when your dog stops eating. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
Pain is only one of the measures of quality of life and dogs and cats don’t always show outward signs. They feel the discomfort, but they don’t express it the way people do.
A pet owner is more likely to notice signs of anxiety in their dog rather than wincing or moaning. These can look like: pacing, excessive panting and not being able to find a comfortable spot to lie down.
In addition to anxiety there are other common signs of pain that dogs show us. Most are quite different than how people react.
Signs of pain in a dog:
- Avoiding family interaction
- Not eating
- Flinching when touched
- No longer seems happy
Two Quality of Life scoring tools
Dr. Gardner and Dr. McVety each approach the evaluation of your dog’s condition differently. So, there are two unique Quality of Life Scales on the Lap of Love website. Each is set up as a calendar with categories that you score.
There’s a link at the end of this article that directs you to both questionnaires.
Dr. Gardner’s Quality of Life Scale
Dr. Garner’s scale uses a clear-cut scoring system based on your answers to statements about your dog’s behavior. There are 6 categories. Each statement is given a score.
Here are the 6 categories:
- Mobility – Good mobility, poor mobility, bare minimum mobility
- Nutrition – Good appetite, poor appetite, no appetite
- Hydration – Adequate intake, poor intake, requires assistance (subcutaneous fluids)
- Interaction/Attitude – Interacts with family normally, some interaction, hides in the closet or under the bed
- Elimination – Normal, reduced or irregular, none
- Favorite Things – Normal play and activities, decreased play, no interest in their favorite things
A score of 2 is the best and it means your dog performed the behavior as they normally do. A score of 1 says they met the criteria minimally and a 0 means they barely accomplished the task or couldn’t do it at all.
Pet owners total the score on a daily basis. A score of 12-9 is assessed that everything is okay. A total score of 6-8 is a sign that veterinary intervention is needed. And a score of 5 or less points to euthanasia.
Dr. McVety’s Quality of Life Scale
This scale also consists of a scoring system from 0-2. But instead of judging behavior in broad categories, pet parents answer and score specific statements about their dog. A score of 0 means you agree with the statement, 1 points to some changes, and 2 means you disagree.
Here are samples of the statements pet parents are asked to score:
- Desire to be with the family has not changed.
- Still dislikes the same things (i.e., still hates the mailman)
- Does not seem confused
- Nighttime activity is normal
- No changes in breathing or panting
- Appetite has stayed the same
- Ability to ambulate (walk around) has stayed the same
Dr. McVety also incorporates how well the humans in the family are doing. She questions your concerns about:
- Pet suffering
- Not knowing the right time to euthanize
- Your desire to perform nursing care for your dog or cat
- Coping with loss after your pet has passed
- Concern for other family members such as children
Together, both Quality of Life Scales will give you a comprehensive assessment about your dog’s health and your wellbeing.
Saying goodbye to Sophie
I never write about the final days with Sophie. It’s my mission to be the positive face of life with a paralyzed dog; because I believe your pet can have an amazing life.
But I will share that I waited too long to say goodbye. Sophie was a 15-year-old dog who’d been paralyzed for 5 years. She had recently developed a tumor in her stomach and barely ate.
I didn’t immediately see the signs that her life was coming to an end. So, when she stopped eating, I went to McDonald’s® to get her favorite Chicken McNuggets®. I remember being surprised she didn’t eat them. Then it hit me. I knew I needed to show my love for her by letting her go.
Most pets don’t pass away gently while they’re asleep. It’s up to us as their family and guardians to make this final decision for them. It’s our last act of kindness we perform for our fur kids.
How to download the Quality of Life Scale
I hope you’ll take time to download and complete the two Quality of Life scoring tools. Then put them away for a date far off in the future.
And when you start to question how your dog is doing or whether their condition has worsened, you can pull it out to read and compare. It’ll give you the information to make the necessary loving decisions..