Companions on your journey.

Quality of Life

What is Quality of Life?

Quality of life is a frequent term used to assess how an pet is fairing in the midst of aging or illness.

You know your pet the best, and are the expert regarding the quality of his or her life. Your evaluation will probably occur multiple times throughout your animal’s illness. If there are other people who also love this animal, it may be helpful, especially with children, to involve them in some discussions regarding quality as you are faced with decisions.

Here are some ideas of how to objectively gauge quality of life:

First, take a moment and decide how you define quality in terms of living with quality. Truthfully answer some key questions such as:

  • Is your pet eating and drinking normally?
  • Can it relieve itself on its’ own?
  • Can your pet move around on its’ own?
  • Is your pet interested in the activities around it?
  • Is your pet withdrawn much of the time?

It can be helpful to understand the differences between pain and suffering as you are making assessments of quality in your pet’s life.


Pain is a physical and emotional sensation that can be complicated to assess. Keep in mind, a pet’s reaction to pain is dependent upon its personality and the degree of pain it’s experiencing. Ask your veterinarian what signs your pet may display to indicate pain.


Suffering is more than physical attributes, and involves the ability to enjoy living life. Use the above tools to help decide if important qualities are diminishing or are no longer present in your pet’s life. These may help you to define what suffering would be for your pet and create a plan to prevent or limit any suffering.

Measuring Quality of Life

You might also consider some of the following suggestions to help gain an even deeper understanding of your pet’s current quality of life.

Create a List of Your Pet’s Unique Qualities

You might also consider some of the following suggestions to help gain an even deeper understanding of your pet’s current quality of life.

Your pet is a very special individual with their own special customs. These are a few general ideas to help you get started on your own list:

  • Chasing a ball
  • Playing with other pets
  • Greeting you at the door
  • Playing with toys
  • Wanting to go for walks
  • Usual habits like scratching on a post and rubbing your legs or barking at a neighbor

As your pet’s disease progresses, and these qualities fade, mark them off the list. Decide early on how many you will allow to go before too much quality diminishes from your pet’s day-to-day life.

Keep a Good Day/Bad Day Calendar

Evaluate what a good day would be for your pet, and also what a bad day looks like. Each evening, recall the day and decide if it was a good or bad day, marking a calendar with a happy face or a sad face. Decide how many bad days in a row occur before quality is compromised.

You also can use a marble jar for this same purpose. For each good day, a marble is placed in a jar. For every bad day, a marble is removed from the jar.

Keep a Journal

Keep a daily record of events in your and your pet’s life. This will help you look back and reflect on changes that occur and how your life is affected.

(Reprinted with permission from the Argus Institute, Colorado State University)