Traveling Dog Lady: How to Evaluate Your Senior Pet's Quality of Life

Saturday, May 13, 2017

How to Evaluate Your Senior Pet's Quality of Life

A question I get all the time from friends, family and on social media is "How Will I Know...." (when my senior pet is ready to go). We've all heard those with experience say "You will just know." Well, in my personal experience, I have only had to euthanize one pet -- my beloved Hobie -- and believe me, I did not "just know". I spent at least two years riding the roller coaster of watching my dear dog suffer, then rally. At times, he appeared to be on death's door. The next morning, he would be running and playing with my two younger dogs, me, and the cats, or swimming in the lake. So, will you "just know"? Maybe. Maybe not.

Gee, I'm helpful!

In my journey with all the senior pets I've had the pleasure to know (I am so grateful for those experiences), one thing I learned about is the Quality of Life Scale For Pets. Sometimes this is called The HHHHHMM Scale.  I strongly recommend that you bookmark one of these links, and keep it handy if you have a senior dog or cat that is nearing the end of its life.**

Filkin, lived to be 17
Maggie, the last of the "Connie Cats" lived to be 21

Mr. Kitty, whose life we saved, lived to be 16

Love Kitty, who was hit by a car, and her daughter, Filkin, ca. 1985

The HHHHHMM Scale, or Quality of Life Scale For Pets was created by veterinary oncologist Alice Villalobos, DVM and is designed to give the average pet parent the information they need to continue assessing any dog or cat's general quality of life. The criteria is simple, and you can review each item on the list quickly and easily every day. It basically goes like this:


You rate each item on a scale of Zero to Ten, with zero being "awful" and ten being "ideal".

Here's an example I would have used with Hobie at any point in 2014 (when he was having more and more bad days):  Hurt = 7, Hunger = 10, Hydration = 5, Hygiene= 2, Happiness = 4, Mobility = 4, More Good Days Than Bad = 9 for a total score of 41. Note that a total of more than 35 points means the pet's quality of life is acceptable.  Pretty good, right? Easy for anyone to figure out, and comforting for you and your family when you're feeling stressed out because Fifi is having a bad day.

Timba, in her later years (she was 18!) and the first Charlie (Charlie the cat) 

So, even though Hobie smelled bad (hygiene), seemed somewhat unhappy and was having major mobility issues, he was still having, overall, more good days than bad, and scoring high on each of those days. Even though, WITHIN those days there was bad stuff...mainly, arthritis, difficulty standing and walking, peeing and pooping and then falling down in it (ugh) and trouble staying hydrated.... he was still more happy than not, and having more good days than bad. Eventually, that all flipped, and he began having many bad days. And I guess, you might say, it was then that I "knew".

Good day!!

Good day! Tongue out!

Another method I've heard of is a little easier to remember and much more simplified: Eating, Drinking, Pooping, Peeing.  If your pet is eating, drinking, pooping and peeing normally, on more days than not (maybe with an occasional day that seems "off") then life is still good. I would add to the list: "Moving". If the pet has severe trouble moving, that's a huge indicator of a less than ideal quality of life.  Remember, we all have sick days -- dogs and cats are no exception.

Hobie on a "sick day". He had just gotten home from the hospital
and was confined to the kitchen to keep the other pets form bugging him.

I've borrowed a phrase for the later years of a pet's life (age 12 and higher): "doggie hospice" or "kitty hospice". Some veterinarians are coming around to actually providing hospice for dogs and cats. All this really means is that, with the vet's help, you learn how to assess your dog's or cat's situation on a daily basis, and you make him or her as comfortable as possible during this time. It also means spending as much quality time together as possible -- because an animal's life is short enough already, and I guarantee that you will regret if you don't spend as much fun and loving time as possible with your pet during this phase of his or her life. That doesn't mean that you call in sick to work, shirk your responsibilities to family, or anything drastic like that -- it just means, try to make your time together truly memorable for yourself, and comforting for your pet.  It also doesn't mean playing ball, running, taking long walks, or anything that will cause your pet distress or pain. Gentle, loving time together. Maybe your dog sits beside you, snoozing, while you work in the garden; your cat sleeps on your lap (or keyboard!) while you work at your computer or surf the web -- that sort of activity. (And don't forget to take pictures!! Lots, and lots of pictures).

One thing that I did (and yeah, I'm a crazy pet lady, remember!) is that I moved my bedroom downstairs to our walk-out basement. That meant Hobie did not have to climb stairs during the last seven months of his life. The photo below is him walking on the basement floor, which I covered with doggy-safe non-slip rugs that can easily be thrown in the washing machine if an (oops!) accident occurs (as happened quite frequently).  Yeah, I'd do just about anything for my dogs and cats!

Hobie, on one of his last days. Still plugging along, but with difficulty.
One of my favorite memes circulating on the interwebs is the one that says something about the dog or cat being dependent on you, the human, for everything. You are his everything. Pets, especially dogs, crave your companionship above almost everything else other than eating and sleeping. Dogs are pack animals and need to know their pack is nearby. Whether that's one human, six humans, four other dogs, 19 barn cats, a parrot, a bunny rabbit, or a combination of critters. The pack is the pack. Reassure your dog as much as possible by providing her with human or animal companionship whenever possible. It's great if you have other pets in the household, because then the company is built-in!

Take pictures! Take pictures!
All the pets loved Hobie!

So, go ahead and bookmark, save, or print a copy of the Quality of Life Scale for Pets and keep it handy for your pets senior years. The scale applies to both dogs and cats.

Got a question about your senior pet? Drop me an email at, or pose your question in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

**This is NOT a sponsored or paid post!**

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