Owners of companion animals the world over know the joy, loyalty and love their fur friends can bring. They also know the heartbreak of watching their beloved pets decline in old age or through life-limiting disease. Caring for an aging pet can involve pain management, potty problems, and a host of things now made difficult – like getting up onto the bed. But the real angst people wrestle with is knowing when, and whether, to ease their pet’s suffering through euthanasia.
Enter the best free tool for pet parents with aging companion animals: the Quality of Life Scale.
“Whether or not we’re working with a family in a hospice capacity, we encourage pet parents to regularly use the Quality of Life Scale to track their beloved companion’s days,” said Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice and Aftercare Center.
“It helps ensure compassionate care in a pet’s sunset days, and helps avoid needless suffering.”
The Heaven at Home team uses a scale developed by Alice Villalobos for her book, Canine and Feline Oncology: Honoring the Human-Animal Bond.
Known as the HHHHHMM Scale, the categories of Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility and More Good Days Than Bad are rated on a scale of 1-10. A score of 35 or higher represents an acceptable life quality to continue with hospice.
The scale also gives ideas on ways to improve the pet’s quality of life. Under Hurt, the questions examine pain control and breathing capacity, which can be supplemented with medication and oxygen. With Hunger, hand-feeding and warming food can help. Hydration can be addressed with fluid injections, and for Hygiene, pets can be kept comfortable by keeping sanitary areas trimmed to avoid urine scald and by attending wounds and pressure sores.
In the Happiness section, the question is whether the pet still expresses joy, interest, and responsiveness to family and toys. Moving a pet’s bed closer to family activity may help.
For Mobility, what kind of assistance does the pet need? Lastly, the ‘More Good Days Than Bad’ section helps give a clear sense of whether a pet’s quality of life might be too compromised to continue in a healthy human-animal bond.
“End of life is an emotional time for caregivers. Having clear criteria to work with helps pet parents – and their pets – find peace.”
If you’d like to download a copy of the HHHHHMM Scale, visit the Tools Page on our website.