As your pet ages, they may slow down and may no longer enjoy their once-favorite activities, but senior pets can enjoy a good quality life (QOL) for years. By routinely assessing your senior pet’s QOL, providing appropriate accommodations, and providing them with regular screenings and preventive care at our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital, you can help ensure your pet’s golden years are pain-free and enjoyable. We explain why routine monitoring of your senior pet’s QOL is the best way to measure their health and happiness.
Why you should assess your senior pet’s quality of life
Many pet owners associate QOL assessments with a terminally ill pet, but every pet, including healthy pets, should be assessed regularly. By observing your pet and objectively measuring the factors that contribute to their mental and physical health, you can make necessary adjustments to support their health, cognitive function, and comfort. A quality of life scale is a powerful tool you can use at home to measure your pet’s appetite, mobility, energy, pain levels, and health to get a better picture of their overall wellbeing. Here are the most important questions you should ask about your pet.
Is my senior pet in pain?
Pets instinctively conceal pain because that would leave them vulnerable to potential predators, which makes recognising their pain a challenge. Pain signs that pets do display are usually subtle and involve a behavior change. The following behaviors may signal pain in your pet:
- Increased irritability
- Weight loss
- Reluctance to being handled
- Whining or whimpering
- Stiffness or abnormal posture
- Excessive grooming of one area
- Heavy panting
- Reluctance to walk or jump
- Difficulty going up and down stairs
Osteoarthritis is the most common, but not the only, condition that causes pain in senior pets, and chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, can significantly decrease QOL. If your pet appears to be hurting, contact our team as soon as possible, so we can identify the cause and alleviate their pain.
Is my senior pet eating enough?
A pet of any age who stops eating is a concern, and it’s a particular worry in a senior pet. As pets age, their metabolism and activity levels slow normally, but your pet’s significant loss of appetite may also be because of an underlying health problem, such as cancer, heart disease, pancreatitis, Addison’s disease, kidney and liver issues, or dental disease. Your veterinarian may prescribe an appetite stimulant or medications to manage disease side effects, such as nausea, if they are chronically ill, or suggest tube- or syringe-feeding to deliver nutrients to your pet. However, when your pet loses all interest in food or is in too much pain to eat and they cannot take in enough nutrition to maintain bodily processes, their quality of life obviously suffers.
Is my senior pet drinking enough water?
Senior pets are highly susceptible to dehydration, which can result in muscle dysfunction, electrolyte imbalance, and organ failure. Signs that your pet is not drinking enough water include:
- Appetite loss
- Sunken eyes
- Dry nose and gums
Water is essential for humans and pets, and senior pets especially need to stay hydrated. If your pet appears dehydrated, ask your veterinarian about methods to increase their water intake, such as switching to moist food or providing a water fountain. In severe cases, you may need to administer subcutaneous fluids at home to ensure your pet stays adequately hydrated.
Why does my senior pet have pressure sores?
A: Pressure sores (i.e., decubital ulcers), which are similar to bed sores in humans, commonly occur in pets with mobility issues who often lie in one place for too long. You may need to help reposition your mobility-impaired senior pet at regular intervals to avoid pressure sores, as well as to help with hygiene. This is a sign of a reduced QOL for your pet—and can also be a heavy responsibility for you.
How do I know if my senior pet is depressed?
While pets don’t experience depression and stress exactly like humans, changes in their environment, routine, or cognitive and physical health can affect their QOL. A depressed pet may show the following signs:
- Decreased appetite
- Increased sleeping
- Inappropriate elimination
- Social withdrawal
- Destructive behaviors
- Reluctance to play
When assessing your pet’s QOL, always consider what brings your pet joy, and whether they are continuing to enjoy these activities.
Can I help my senior pet’s mobility?
As an aging pet’s mobility decreases, their mental health, and thus their QOL, is often affected because they can no longer move freely and enjoy their environment and family. Some senior pets find that even standing up is difficult. In these cases, you can consider pet stairs or ramps to help them onto beds, couches, and other elevated surfaces, or a lifting harness. However, your pet will require increased support as their mobility declines, and their QOL will diminish.
Consider all these aspects of your pet’s health to assess their quality of life, and be prepared to accept when their QOL is so reduced that they are no longer enjoying life. In the meantime, continue to monitor their physical and mental health, and do not hesitate to contact our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team if you need help evaluating your pet’s comfort and happiness.