If you’ve ever lived with a senior pet, you know the questioning and worries that go along with assessing your furry friend’s health and well-being. This is the number one thing I help pet owners with every day. At Peaceful Pet Passage, we spend a lot of time talking with our clients about Quality of Life, which is a broad concept of well-being that has subjective and objective components. I’d like to share with you a Quality of Life scale that I’ve found useful. Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinary oncologist, developed this scale, also known as the HHHHHMM scale. She is well-known for coining the term “pawspice” and developing a comprehensive hospice program for pets. Patients are scored in each category from 0-10 (with 10 being ideal).
Is your pet panting heavily in the absence of high temperatures and exercise? Is his breathing irregular or with a lot of abdominal effort? When you flip up his lip, do his gums appear pink or pale or even white? Is he restless and having trouble sleeping soundly? Are you currently giving pain medication, and if so, does it still seem to be helping?
Is your pet willing to eat? Does he eat his regular pet food, or do you give him “people” food or special treats? Will your pet eat out of his bowl or only if you offer food by hand? Do you notice he has lost weight?
Is your pet drinking enough water (rule of thumb is 1 cup per 10 lb body weight per day)? Do his gums feel tacky? When you pinch the skin in the scruff of the neck, does it “hang” there or fall right back down?
Are you able to keep your pet clean and brushed, especially after elimination? If your pet is spending a lot of time lying in one place, does he have cushioning to prevent pressure sores from forming? Are there open wounds in the skin that require cleaning?
Does your pet seem happy to see you and spend time with you and your family? Does he play with his toys? Is he depressed, anxious, bored, lonely, or fearful?
Can your pet get up without help? Can he walk without help? Does your pet show interest in going for a walk? Is he limping, stumbling, or having seizures?
more good days than bad
When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life may be too compromised for your friend. Keep a daily journal for your pet so you can objectively assess trends. If your pet is suffering, making a decision for euthanasia is the right thing to do.
Scoring and Acting on the Score
Add up your numbers from each category above. If your total is more than 35 points, quality of life is acceptable, with the caveat that your pet may need supportive care such as pain medication, mobility aids, a change in diet, etc. If the score is less than 35 points, I encourage you to reach out to your veterinary team, who can assess your pet’s condition and make recommendations for supportive care, or in some cases, for euthanasia. As Dr. Villalobos points out on her website, our companion animals are fortunate: society protects them from suffering and grants them a peaceful and painless death.
I hope this Quality of Life scale will help guide you. If you have questions about using it, please reach out in the comments or send me a message.