Assessing Your Pet’s Quality of Life – Putting Your Pet’s Needs First and Consideration of Their “Favourite Things”

Many different objective resources can be used to assess and quantify your pet’s quality of life as we approach the end-of-life time period. At Lifting Stars Veterinary Homecare, we recognize and appreciate that no one knows their pet better than their guardian does and that their subjective assessment of their pet’s “Favourite Things” can be a tremendously helpful resource when assessing their quality of life.

Simply put, if we were to ask your pet what were the top five things that they loved to do, what do you think they would tell us? As your pet’s carer and advocate, no one on this earth could know your pet better or be better able to consider their favourite things better than you can. You can create a list of three to five of your pet’s “Favourite Things” and ideally rank them in order of importance. If you’re uncertain, you can ask other family members, friends or caregivers that are familiar with your pet to help you create the list or to make lists of their own.

When making this list, some of the “Favourite Things” may be easy to decide on, while others may not be as obvious. For example, many of our pets love eating, playing and getting attention from us. When adding such items to the list, it’s helpful to be as specific as you can. Perhaps your dog Janey absolutely loved to play fetch with her frisbee, or your cat Rosco loved nothing more than laying in his hammock on the sunny window sill. Other pet “Favourite Things” may not come to mind as quickly as they may have negative connotations with their behaviour. Although your dog Janey loved to play fetch, she also loved to chase the mailman every time he came to the door; and in addition to loving his sunny hammock, your cat Rosco also loved jumping on the kitchen counters and looking for dirty dishes he could lick perfectly clean. In summary, when we make the list of your pet’s “Favourite Things,” we want to put their interests first, try to exclude our biases and ensure that the list reflects the “Favourite Things” they love more than anything.

For example, let’s create a completed list of Janey the dog and Rosco the cat’s favourite things:

Janey the dog’s favourite things:

    1. Frisbee – Janey loved the frisbee so much that it needed to be hidden in the closet, and its name could not be verbalized without her dancing with excitement. This is Janey’s best-ever favourite thing to do.
    2. Eating – Janey loves eating anything and everything she can…on walks, at home, at a friend’s place or a BBQ. It’s all fair game…including our kitchen countertops.
    3. Going to the park – The excited whimpering as we walk or drive to the park is a big clue, as is the cloud of dust she leaves behind when she takes off to explore our favourite dog-friendly, off-leash parks.
    4. People – Jumping up, barking, tail wagging, bum wiggling…you know the drill! And Janey does them all with pretty much anyone that she meets. People are definitely her jam.

Rosco the cat’s favourite things:

    1. Sunshine and hammock time, if there’s a sunny spot in the house, you can rest assured that Rosco is in it. Add the comfy hammock in a sunny window, and this is “Club Med” kitty-style.
    2. Eating – Rosco is a kitty that has always loved his food. Dry kibble, canned food, human food treats…and when he can, licking all the dishes clean either on the kitchen counter, the sink or sneaking a few licks from the open dishwasher.
    3. Me – I’m thankful to say my boy loves me! Rosco is my personal kitty shadow when I’m
      at home…be it on my office desk, on my papers, sitting in a nearby box, on my lap on
      the couch or my pillow when I’m in bed. He’s my kitty shadow, and in most cases, usually purring almost nonstop as he does it.
    4. Helping with the laundry – I can see the sparkle in Rosco’s eyes as I’m about to put the fresh bed sheets on the bed, and then the pure joy as I see him launch into the air attacking the sheets as I shake them to cover the bed. He’s never missed a day to help me with this favourite chore!

Now that we have our list of favourite things, how do we use this in consideration of our pet’s quality of life? First, we want to remember how our pet’s enjoyed these things for the majority of their lives. How wonderful it is to stop and reflect on such beautiful memories that we’ve shared.

Next, we will reflect on how our pet’s enjoyment of their favourite things has slowly changed. In most cases, as with aging people, the favourite things gradually become less intense in the excitement they offer and less frequent in how often they occur. It is perfectly normal for this to happen over time. However, the key to remember is that if your pet is still feeling good, they will usually keep doing their favourite things but in a more scaled-down, geriatric kind of way, each and every opportunity that they have. Ideally, we never want there to be a day when your pet’s favourite things become indifferent to them, or they cease to bring them joy.

When advanced illness begins to impede these enjoyments, it is time to think about your pet’s quality of life. At Lifting Stars Veterinary Homecare, we recommend taking your senior and geriatric pets to your regular veterinarian for annual or semi-annual wellness exams, as suggested by your veterinarian. This is the best way to identify changes in their health and help manage their health concerns as best as possible. If your pet has little or no interest in their favourite things, please bring this to your veterinarian’s attention. These changes may suggest underlying disease or pain that is not managed appropriately. As is commonly known, our pets are usually experts at hiding changes in their health or pain from us, and what is often perceived as “slowing down” in senior and geriatric pets is more often from the gradual progression of the illness.

The list of your pet’s “Favourite Things” provides an excellent, subjective assessment of your pet’s quality of life that no one can better prepare, interpret or advocate for better than you can. It also provides pet owners with a “pet’s first” checklist of things to watch out for as the clock of time gradually ticks by. By creating and using this list, along with the help of your regular veterinarian and the team at Lifting Stars Veterinary Homecare, we aim to help your pet’s life to be as long, comfortable and fulfilling as it can be.