ASK THE VET
QOur family is very close, and we love our dog to bits. She is turning 14 years young this summer, and we are really worried about her quality of life. Friends say we should have her put down, but we really don’t want to part with her. Can you help us decide what is right?
AQuality of life assessment is really very, very challenging for us all, owner and professional veterinary surgeon alike. The fact that friends are saying to you that there are concerns, means that a genuine effort must be made to come to a rational decision.
Your friends may be wrong, but there is the possibility that they are not.
Your first port of call is your own vet: I have seen many, many pets over the years whose lives seemed blighted by illness or pain, which the owners assumed was age alone.
Once the underlying conditions had been addressed (cured or simply palliated) life was often dramatically more enjoyable. Our older pets suffer from many of the ailments we do — even arthritis and the pain it causes can be a very significant negative contributor to quality of life. Please, please have your vet do a health assessment and address any painful or debilitating conditions.
That said, of course there is more to life than simply not being unwell — we must address the animal’s cognitive abilities — dementia is a terrible problem in some older cats and even dogs can become confused or obtunded by cognitive dysfunction. Dogs usually are happiest when they can demonstrate normal behaviours — going for a walk — perhaps not a run around at 14, but at least enjoying a gentle ramble in the park or at the seaside.
They need be able to enjoy their food, free from nausea or toothache. There is so much to the end of life decision that I really believe you need a professional assessment to assist you — that is what your vet and vet nurse team are for — they are really best placed to advise, and they do this almost every day, so are very experienced.
My heart goes out to you, and I wish you all the very best with what I know is a terribly emotional process.