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Compassionate Guidance: Assessing Your Dog's Quality of Life When Dealing with Cancer

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Facing the heart-wrenching decision of when to consider euthanasia for your dog with cancer is an emotionally challenging journey. To help you make this difficult decision, there are several steps you can take to evaluate your furry friend's quality of life, and we'll guide you through each one.

Step 1: At-Home Quality of Life Test

Begin by taking an at-home quality of life test. The Quality-of-Life Scale, also known as the HHHHHMM scale, was developed by veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos. This concise test empowers pet owners to assess whether their beloved companions are enjoying a good quality of life. You can use this test as often as needed, but remember, your veterinarian's input is essential after your assessment.

The HHHHHMM scale includes the following factors, each rated on a scale of 1 to 10:

  • Hurt

  • Hunger

  • Hydration

  • Hygiene

  • Happiness

  • Mobility

  • More good days than bad

Step 2: Consult Your Veterinarian

Your veterinarian is a crucial part of your pet's care team and can provide insights into their condition and quality of life that you may not have noticed. While they cannot make the decision of euthanasia for you, their expertise can guide you through your pet's health care plan.

Consult with your veterinarian to discuss the scores and make an informed decision about your pet's well-being. Additionally, Lap of Love, a nationwide network of veterinarians specializing in end-of-life care, offers valuable resources like the Quality-of-Life Assessment Tool and the Quality-of-Life Scale to aid in your evaluation.

Step 3: Watch for Signs of Pain and Discomfort

Be vigilant for signs of pain, discomfort, and distress in your dog, as these can be clear indicators that euthanasia should be considered. These signs may include:

  • Labored breathing

  • Lack of appetite and lethargy

  • Difficulty with defecation or urination

  • Restlessness and insomnia

  • Unusual vocalization or moaning

  • Antisocial behavior, like hiding or unexplained aggression

Step 4: Use a Calendar to Record Good and Bad Days

Track your pet's ups and downs during their final months by marking a calendar. At the end of each day, assess whether your pet had an overall good day or an overall bad day. When the number of bad days outweighs the good days in a week, it's a signal to discuss humane euthanasia with your veterinarian.

Step 5: Seek Input from Family and Friends

Don't hesitate to reach out to family and friends who know both you and your pet. A second opinion from someone familiar with your dog's condition can provide valuable perspective and support during this decision-making process.

Step 6: Consult Your Veterinarian Again

If, after following these steps, you still find yourself uncertain about whether to proceed with euthanasia, remember that this uncertainty is normal. Schedule another appointment with your veterinarian to share your concerns and thoughts with them. They are there to offer guidance and support during this challenging decision-making process.

Ultimately, allowing our beloved companions to pass peacefully and with dignity, free from unnecessary suffering, is one of the kindest and most humane decisions we can make. It may never be easy, but it is a final act of love and compassion we can provide for our loyal four-legged friends.

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