Canine Massage Guild

Quality of Life

Quality of life is something I often end up chatting with owners about, especially as many of my clients are senior dogs. We all worry at various times about whether we are doing the best we can for our old dogs, and whether they truly do have a good quality of life. 

For me, determining quality of life is very much dependent on the dog and the lifestyle they’re used to. What is perfectly acceptable and enjoyable for one dog would be horrible for another dog. Some dogs would thrive with cuddles by the fire and lots of family attention, and just trips out to the garden. For others life wouldn’t be worth living without daily off lead walks in the countryside.

Something we really must consider is mental health. Because we can’t have a chat to our dogs about how they’re feeling, we often measure things in purely physical terms - can they walk, can they eat, can they go to the toilet? But we need to be looking at things like enthusiasm too - does the tail wag, are they keen to do things even if they struggle, is there still a fighting spirit? All very subjective things, which is why we probably talk about them less. But you know your own dog, these are all things you very much can tell if you watch closely.

I am extremely passionate about quality of life in older dogs, and that comes from having the privilege of owning an elderly Terrier, Tuppy, for the last year of her life. Tuppy was a stray dog who was extremely arthritic, and in heart failure among other things. I had to decide whether to put her to sleep or foster her, kennels weren’t a humane option for a dog like her. I took one look at her eyes and saw the fighting spirit, she came home with me that night and stayed for a year. 

I had one rule for Tuppy - I was keeping her alive so that she could actively enjoy her life, if at any point the pain became severe or she stopped enjoying things she would be put to sleep. And for a whole year she had a lovely time with beach walks, hill walks, going to the pub, sitting in on staff meetings, helping clean out the cattery, playing with other dogs and generally being very involved with life. There were health issues along the way, but nothing that stopped her wanting to do those things. Then one day she kept stopping on her walk, she wanted to go back to the car. That night she couldn’t breathe well, her lungs were starting to fill with fluid. So I said goodbye to her the next morning. She still managed a walk and some cuddles the next day, but I wasn’t prepared to wait until she was suffering to make the decision.

I was lucky with Tuppy, I didn’t have years of memories of her as a young dog to cloud my decision making, I could only judge her how she was in that moment. But she truly taught me what it’s like for an older dog to have a quality of life, and it’s how I will continue to make decisions for my senior dogs.

So for me quality of life boils down to - do the good times significantly outweigh the bad, is my dog coping with the bad times well enough, and ultimately would I be happy if I had to lead the life my dog is leading? If I can already say yes to these things, or can change their lifestyle in some way to mean I can say yes, then I’m happy with my dogs quality of life.

As I said, it is subjective, so it’s worth having your own definition of quality of life and your own measurements for it. Better to have this sorted and enjoy your dogs senior years, than it is to be constantly wondering and second guessing yourself at the end of their life.