Thanks to advances in disease prevention and treatment, pets are living longer, healthier lives now than ever before. The average lifespan of dog is 10-15 years and cats is 14-18 years. While that may seem like a dauntingly long time when your puppy is slow to pick up on housetraining, it’s really not much time when compared to a human lifespan. Pets pack all their life experiences into those short 10-18 years. They go from playful clumsy puppies and kittens into graceful and athletic adults and from mature adults to senior and geriatric pets. They pack a lifetime’s measure of health and disease into those few years.
As pets age and begin to near end of life, it is worth taking a step back and looking at where we can have the biggest impact on quality of life. For large breed dogs, that may be alleviating pain and mobility issues associated with arthritis. For cats, it may be helping reduce the symptoms of chronic kidney disease. For small dogs, it may be reducing the pain associated with severe dental disease. Whatever the case may be, many older pets have conditions that cannot be cured, but can be effectively managed to improve overall quality of life.
Our doctors and staff can help you evaluate what conditions may be affecting your aging pet and discuss a variety of treatment and management options to improve quality of life. Some of the conditions that affect older pets that we can offer significant help to include:
- Mobility issues—difficulty rising from a lying position, going up and down stairs, accessing preferred places to rest such as a window sill (cats)
- Decreased appetite from chronic conditions such as kidney or liver disease
- Memory loss and decreased cognitive ability
- Pain and infection associated with dental disease
- Pain and infection associated with tumors or cancer
- Chronic respiratory conditions such as a repetitive cough
Dogs and cats are different from people in many ways, most of them good. They don’t care much for appearances. They are never embarrassed by the behavior or socioeconomic status of their owners. They don’t feel sorry for themselves. They have a knack for making the most of anything and their wants and needs are basic. They need to food to eat, somebody to love them, and they need to be free from crippling pain or nausea. If those three requirements are met, dogs and cats are happy. Their quality of life may improve when we devote more time to them and enrich their environment, and it may decline with medical conditions such as heart disease or arthritis, but as long as they are loved, fed, and free from crippling pain or nausea, they are happy.
In that vein, if they are suffering from severe pain that is persistent, crippling, and cannot be alleviated, they are unhappy. If they are ill or have a medical condition that leaves them nauseated with a reduced appetite and are losing weight, they are suffering.
In helping clients determine if the time for euthanasia is getting close, I ask them if their pet still has things that brighten his or her day; things he or she gets excited about. Does he still enjoy interaction with your family? Does she get up and meet you or at least get excited when you come home from work? For most dogs and cats, food is an enjoyable part of life. Does your pet still get excited for treats or for mealtime?
If the answer to these questions is yes, quality of life is probably still acceptable. If the answer to these questions is no, perhaps quality of life has diminished to the point where euthanasia should be considered—often the hardest decision that we as pet owners face.