Quality of Life Scale for Dogs

Quality of Life Scale for Dogs

Table of Contents

old black dog

Assessing your dog’s quality of life

One of the hardest – but most important – responsibilities of pet ownership is to know when your dog might be nearing the end of his life. It is never easy to make the decision to help our pups transition to a more peaceful place.

You are probably asking yourself how to assess your dog’s quality of life, and how much he still enjoys his days. This test allows you to get a quick overview over your pup’s wellbeing, and the best next step on your journey together.

Quality of Life Scale Calculator

  • How to use this assessment: Each of the factors that determines one aspect of QOL is scored on a scale of 1 to 10. You know your dog best - base his score on his general character and disposition. Example: Moving, A Border Collie who used to run and jump all day and suddenly can only walk slowly could have a lower score than a Pug who has always been a couch potato.
  • Pain and discomfort

    Scale points to consider:
    • 1pt: Your pup is already taking pain medication and still seems to be in a lot of discomfort daily. He might be crying, avoiding your touch, hiding, panting, shaking. You have discussed and tried out several pain medications with your vet without much success.
    • 5pt: Your pup needs daily pain medication, but it is helping manage his discomfort. He is able to be comfortable the majority of the time. He is not crying, whining and panting most of the day.
    • 10pt: Your dog does not need any pain medication and is not experiencing any kind of discomfort.
  • Eating and drinking

    Scale points to consider:
    • 1pt: Your dog is not interested in food or water. He might sniff a treat that you hand him but then turn away. You cannot tempt him even with very special treats.
    • 5pt: Your pup is eating and drinking less than usual, but you are able to have him eat about half of what he usually would. He is responding to special treats.
    • 10pt: Your dog is eating and drinking as he always has. NOTE: Some dogs are naturally less food-driven than others. Puppies can be born as "picky eaters". If your pup's food drive has been consistently low throughout his life, do not worry about his QOL - he might just not be a big eater.
  • Breathing

    Note: Brachycephalic dogs can show troubles with strenuous exercise and breathing even if they are young and healthy.
    • 1pt: Your dog has problems to breathe normally. He may be coughing or panting even if he had no physical exercise. It seems like he cannot take in enough air (This can be an emergency - call your vet!)
    • 5pt: Your dog sometimes struggles to breathe. This might be after exercise, or when it is hot. Your pup can catch his breath after a few minutes and does not carry on with wheezing or coughing for longer periods of time.
    • 10pt: Your pup is doing great with physical exercise and does not show difficulty breathing.
  • Toll of care on you

    Scale points to consider:
    • 1pt: Caring for your dog is becoming a strong stress factor in your life. You are unable to keep him comfortable and clean. You send a lot of your day worrying about your dog. It is normal to feel resentful after a long period of caring for a pet, too. You may worry about the financial burden of treating a variety of medical conditions your dog has.
    • 5pt: Caring for your dog is mostly joyful for you. You do not resent him. Some days you might have to be more involved than others. At times, you feel stressed and overwhelmed, but not every day.
    • 10pt: Life with your pet is fun. You do not feel stressed or burdened and enjoy every day with him.
  • Hygiene and ability to keep clean

    Scale points to consider:
    • 1pt: Your pet cannot hold his urine and/or feces. He soils himself on a daily basis and lays in his excrements until you help him. You spend a lot of time washing him and might feel like he never is truly clean. He does not groom himself anymore (this includes e.g. licking genitalia, etc.).
    • 5pt: While your pup needs help with going to the bathroom, he does not soil himself on a daily basis. He shows decreased interest in grooming himself and needs your help to keep clean (especially around the butt).
    • 10pt: Your dog can go to the bathroom by himself and needs no help to groom himself. Of course, if he has a long or thick coat, brushing is still required.
  • Social life

    Scale points to consider:
    • 1pt: Your dog avoids spending time with the family. He might be aggressive towards other dogs that he previously got along with well. He is apprehensive towards being touched and might leave the room if he feels overwhelmed.
    • 5pt: While your dog sometimes keeps to himself and seems less interested in socializing than he used to, he still spends time around you and the family.
    • 10pt: Your pup enjoys being with you and other dogs of the family. He does not show any kind of un-social behavior.
  • Behavioral issues

    NOTE: Any kind of sudden change in behavior can have underlying physical causes. If your pet suddenly shows worrying behaviors, always have him checked out by a vet.
    • 1pt: Your dog shows strong and concerning behavioral issues that may put others in danger. He may display aggression, resource guarding, separation anxiety, reactivity or bite when startled. He might have a bite history. You have tried behavior modification and had him treated by a vet with no improvement.
    • 5pt: Your dog has some behavioral problems that make life difficult. He may have a prior bite history and need to be kept away from certain triggers.
    • 10pt: Your pup has a friendly demeanor with no behavioral issues.
  • Total scores

    • 61-70: Congratulations - your pet is happy and healthy!
    • 51-60: Your dog is not at his physical peak anymore, but he enjoys life with you.
    • 41-50: Your pup is struggling a bit. Make sure to check with your veterinarian what you can do to improve his wellbeing.
    • 31-40: Your probably worry about your dog on a daily basis. Take it one day at a time and continuously assess his wellbeing.
    • 21-30: Your dog might be nearing the end of his life. Be vigilant in noticing any deterioration and act quickly if you notice he is suffering.
    • below 20: Your pup's quality of life might be low. Discuss with your vet whether euthanasia might be an option for the near future.

What defines “quality of life” for a dog?

“Quality of life” describes a number of factors to consider when it comes to making educated decisions about euthanasia of a dog (or other pet). Most dog owners face an assessment of their pup’s quality of life as he is advancing in age and his body is slowly becoming weaker and less capable.

However, some dogs might also face a low quality of life earlier on in their life. Here are the most common reasons for that:

Severe illness or injury

If your dog is suffering from a severe illness or sustained difficult-to-heal injuries, you might have to consider his quality of life, and potential for healing, long before he reaches his senior years.

Even very young and previously healthy dogs can become quite sick, and sadly not all conditions have a known or effective cure.

If your pup has suffered a traumatic injury, you might have to consider whether he still have sufficient quality of life even if he is very young. Car accidents, attacks by other dogs or complicated fractures can significantly impact the outlook on the QoL.

Extreme behavioral issues

In rare cases, behavioral problems may be so extreme that they significantly impact the quality of life for both dog and owner. These issues usually evolve around reactivity and aggression, which can stem from a number of different causes.

Dogs can be extremely fear-aggressive to the point where simply handling them in a day-to-day routine is impossible. These dogs might spend their lives in a corner of one room, unable to interact normally in any way. They may have a bite history and have shown no signs of improvement when treated both with behavior modification programs as well as medication.

This type of extreme fear aggression is sometimes seen in severely traumatized rescue dogs. If no improvement is made after about 6 months of implementing training protocols, it might be time to consider behavioral euthanasia.

Other dogs show outright and unprovoked aggression. This is sometimes seen even if there is no known history of abuse or trauma. Some breeds are more likely to show this level of significant escalation with serious bites.

When owning such a dog, the life usually evolves around managing him in a way that he poses minimal risk to other humans and dogs. Sometimes this means that the dog can only spend time indoors and never go on a walk or have his exercise and activity needs met.

If the dog is so aggressive and dangerous, it might be time to consider his quality of life as well. If there is no positive outlook on his behavioral future and no possibility to ensure adequate daily exercise and enrichment, a difficult conversation might need to be had with your veterinarian.

Please note:

It is actually very rare that dogs exhibit a level of aggression that it warrants behavioral euthanasia. This decision must never be made lightly.

An in-depth assessment of his quality of life is necessary. This should happen with a veterinarian and a behaviorist. In many cases, a modified management protocol already allows dog and owner to achieve a more relaxed and happier life together.