It’s me—Sammy, your senior pet. We’ve been best friends since I was a tiny fluff ball—boy, was I cute, if I do say so myself. But now, I’m obviously getting older—I have more silver whiskers, I’m a little slower on our walks, and sometimes I need a little help getting up the stairs. Last week, at my annual check-up, you and the veterinarian talked in hushed voices, and I saw you wipe tears from your eyes. I remember a similar moment a few years ago when I had a bump on my skin, and the veterinarians gave me medicine that made me fall asleep. When I woke up, the bump was gone, and you were happy again. Now, I have new bumps, and I know that is why you are sad.
I know that my life will not be as long as yours, and now that the bumps are back, I sense that my time with you may soon be coming to an end. I’m not always good at letting you know that I’m not feeling well, and I see my friends at Tamberly Animal Hospital sent us home with a quality of life (QOL) scale to help you evaluate my wellbeing, and to understand when it’s my time to go. The QOL scale measures and scores seven key categories, such as my appetite, mobility, energy, and pain levels, that make life worth living.
- Hurt — As I said, I tend to mask my pain, and any signs I do show are subtle, and I know that means you have trouble sensing that I’m hurting. The best way to decipher if I am in pain is to keep track of behavior changes and watch for the following signs:
- Decreased activity
- Limping or lameness
- Appetite loss
- Whining, whimpering, crying, or yelping
- Muscle loss
- Weight gain
- Increased irritability
- Difficulty standing after lying down
- Reluctance to go up and down stairs
- Difficulty jumping on furniture or into the car
- Excessive licking of a certain body area
- Abnormal posture
My veterinarian can help manage my pain with medical and alternative therapies, but when these treatments stop working, I may be in too much pain to enjoy a good QOL.
- Hunger — Meal times are usually my favorite time of the day, but now that I’m not feeling well, I have lost my appetite. Don’t take it personally—you always choose the best kibble—but sometimes my medications make me nauseous, and I don’t feel like eating. You’re sweet to feed me by hand, and I try to eat, because I know that makes you happy. I know that if I don’t eat enough, I will lose weight and have little energy, and I’ve heard about feeding by tube or a syringe, but, honestly, that sounds so unpleasant. When I lose all interest in food and cannot take in enough nutrition to function properly, that may be time to let me go.
- Hydration — Hydration is vital, because every important bodily function requires water. Now that I am older and not well, I am highly susceptible to dehydration, which I know can result in muscle dysfunction, electrolyte imbalance, and organ failure. Dehydration signs can include:
- Moving more slowly than normal
- Appetite loss
- Sunken eyes
- Dry nose and gums
If I cannot drink on my own, I know you can administer fluid under my skin, but it’s not a long-term solution, and may decrease my QOL.
- Hygiene — I’ve always been good about keeping myself clean, but as my mobility decreases, I am developing elimination issues, and grooming myself is harder. Hygiene affects my overall comfort, so please consider this when assessing my QOL.
- Happiness — No one knows me better than you do—you know my favorite activities, foods, and toys, and you know what brings me joy each day. Please, when you notice that I no longer enjoy the things that once pleased me, I am telling you I no longer have a good quality life.
- Mobility — You have seen that my mobility has decreased, which is normal. Tools such as slings, harnesses, and wagons that can help make me more mobile are available, but mobility is freedom, in my opinion, and total immobility would greatly diminish my enjoyment of life.
- More good days than bad — In the coming months, I will have good days and bad days, and when the bad days outnumber the good days, you will need to make the painful choice to end my suffering.
I know that assessing my quality of life and determining the right time for us to say goodbye will be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact my friends at Tamberly Animal Hospital for support and resources. Our time together may feel short, but that’s what makes it so special.
Sammy, your senior pet