Assessing Your Pets’ Quality of Life

Euthanasia is the tragedy all pet owners sign on for. No one thinks about it when they get their bouncy puppies and kittens but it is often an important part of responsible pet ownership. When is the time right? It is a difficult decision that should be discussed with all members of the family and the veterinarian.

Assessing the Right Time

Many times the answer is clear-the pet is very sick with an incurable condition, in pain and debilitated. Sometimes, however, the answer is not as clear. Maybe the pet has been older with several conditions and you have been treating him or her for a while with different medications and you have been dedicated to her care. However, you are not sure if you should keep going. They cannot tell you if they are tired, if they are ready to leave their old body.

Dr. Villalobos' Quality of Life Scale

Dr. Alice Villalobos, a hospice veterinarian, has developed a quality of life scale which can help you determine if it is time. The scale can be used weekly so that you can track the numbers, and if there is a persistent sliding down of the pets’ quality of life, it can be recognized. Many times there are things we can do to improve their daily life, such as fluids, pain medication, feeding help, aiding with mobility. The scale is listed below.

Quality of Life Scale: The HHHHHMM Scale

Pet caregivers can use this Quality of Life Scale to determine
the success of pawspice care. Score patients using a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being ideal).

HURT – Adequate pain control, including breathing ability, is first and foremost on the scale. Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Is oxygen necessary?


HUNGER – Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does the patient require a feeding tube?


HYDRATION – Is the patient dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough, use subcutaneous fluids once or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.


HYGIENE – The patient should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after elimination. Avoid pressure sores and keep all wounds clean.


HAPPINESS – Does the pet express joy and interest? Is the pet responsive to things around him or her (family, toys, etc.)? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can the pet’s bed be close to the family activities and not be isolated?


MOBILITY – Can the patient get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g., a cart)? Does the pet feel like going for a walk? Is the pet having seizures or stumbling? (Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an animal who has limited mobility but is still alert and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as caregivers are committed to helping the pet.)


MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD – When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life might be compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware the end is near. The decision needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.

*Add up the numbers to get a total score.

*A total over 35 points represents acceptable life quality

Adaptedfrom Villalobos, A.E., Quality of Life Scale Helps Make Final Call, VPN, 09/2004, for Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology Honoring the Human-Animal Bond, by Blackwell Publishing, Table 10.1, released 2006.

Making the Difficult Decision

When you are ready to make the difficult end of life decision, or need help in determining your pets’ quality of life, please contact your veterinarian, who will walk you through the process. It is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do, but we owe it our furry friends not to let them suffer needlessly.

“If love would have saved you, you would have lived forever”

Written by Dr. Celeste Forgeron,