We often feel a strong sense of responsibility in caring for our beloved pets.  One of the most challenging aspects of caring for a pet involves making decisions for their health and well-being.  These decisions become increasingly difficult when considering quality of life. Quality of life is a barometer for the well-being of your pet.  It combines your pet’s physical condition, best interests, and mental and emotional well-being.  The following are a few suggestions for assessing quality of life.

Assessing your pet’s quality of life 

The first step involves building a framework for assessing quality of life by thinking openly about what your hopes, fears, and bottom lines are for both you and your pet. Consider the unique qualities, attributes, behaviors, and traits of your pet.  This information can be gathered in a variety of ways:

  • Create a list of your pet’s unique qualities
  • Develop a snapshot, create a picture to assess changes in quality of life.  How have things changed?  What does your pet’s daily picture look like now?
  • List daily activities and qualities in a daily journal or log.  That way you can look back and compare how your pet is doing today versus last week.
  • Use this list as a reference for good days and bad days.  Mark these on a calendar with a + or a -, or a smiley face or a frown to track your pet’s progress from day to day.
  • Determine what items on the list are ‘key’ to your pet’s quality of life.  When they are no longer present it may be time to contact your veterinarian.
  • Enlist the help of family and friends to seek an outside perspective. This will help you assess changes in your pet.


How do I know if my pet is suffering? 

When considering quality of life, questions about pain and suffering often arise.  Pain, and your pet’s reaction to pain, can be complicated and difficult to assess. While it is best to work with your veterinarian to determine if your pet is experiencing physical pain, the following signs might help indicate if your companion is feeling some degree of pain.

  • Change in energy level
  • Decreased or absent appetite
  • Slow to rise
  • Hesitant to be touched
  • Panting
  • Restlessness or unable to find a comfortable position
  • Sitting or resting abnormally
  • Shaking or trembling

Suffering takes into account the physical aspects and also involves taking a look at the unique characteristics that make your pet who he or she is. These are the items you created in your snapshot or picture, list or journal that reflect their personality, temperament and character.

In addition, changes in following behaviors, may indicate suffering and necessitate a call to your veterinarian:

  • Ability and frequency of urination and defecation
  • Activity level and Interest: Is your pet aware of their surroundings or withdrawn?
  • Attitude: Is your pet playful and affectionate?
  • Eating and drinking habits: Is your pet drinking and eating normally?
  • Mobility: Is your pet able to move around on their own?
  • Sleep: Does your pet sleep comfortably? Are they tired most of the time?

Finally, although it may seem selfish, consider your quality of life as well.  There are physical, emotional and financial strains that you and your family face when caring for your pet.  Trust in yourself and the bond you have with your companion animal.  You are their caregiver, family, friend and most importantly, expert on who they are and what they need.

About the Argus Institute

The Argus Institute provides free grief counseling relating to pet loss and support to those making end-of-life decisions for their pets. Founded in 1984, their unique program is one of the longest standing, most comprehensive programs of its kind. Their clinical counselors offer support to people who are facing difficult decisions regarding their pets’ health and help them manage the challenges of caring for a sick animal. Visit the Argus Institute for more information.