Measuring quality of life

Quality of Life (sometimes shortened to QoL) has different meanings to different people. What constitutes a reasonable quality of life for one person for their pet might not for another. One pet owner might consider that urinary incontinence in the house is too much for them to cope with and undignified for their pet. Others will be comfortable with clearing up after their pet, and be OK with this as long as their pet is eating and is mobile. 

For this reason, measuring Quality of Life, in qualitative or quantitative terms, is difficult and is also challenging for the veterinarian or care-giver looking after the pet. Compassion Understood seeks to help veterinary professionals with this challenge through training. Having some understanding of what constitutes quality of life can help us to know when to intervene if our pet needs medical or palliative intervention if no treatment is available. It can help us decide on ‘the right time’ for euthanasia if we feel this is best for our companion.

In its most basic form, measuring Quality of Life means answering the question ‘Is my pet able to do the things that make him/her happy?’ ‘Is he/she having more bad days than good days?’ Other factors to consider are:

  • Whether your pet is in pain or discomfort
  • Your pet’s appetite
  • Your pet’s demeanour or mental state
  • Your pet’s level of mobility
  • Urinary or faecal incontinence

If you can, it’s a good idea to take snapshots of your pet’s Quality of Life at regular intervals throughout life. It’s very easy, in an emotional moment to forget about the things that you pet was able/ enjoyed doing. Capturing your pet’s every day activities and enjoyments help you to benchmark and give you something to later compare against. And you can decide on the level of importance of each of those things to you or your pet.

In the absence of specific Quality of Life training, it is not uncommon to judge a wagging tail or purring as an indicator of happiness in your pet, but these things alone do not give an overall picture.

Veterinary ethologists and scientists have deliberated quality of life and much is published on the subject. One commonly accepted tool for both pet owners and veterinarians to use is Dr Alice Villalobos’ Quality of Life scale. Dr Villalobos is a veterinary oncologist (a cancer specialist for pets) who developed a model ‘Pawspice’, a quality of life programme for terminally ill pets. Her HHHHHMM scale is helpful to put some measurements against: Hurt; Hunger; Hydration; Hygiene; Happiness; Mobility; More good days than bad.

You can read more on the HHHHHMM scale on Quality-of-Life-Scale.pdf (