What is Quality of Life?

animal medical center blogIf you could eavesdrop on the conversations veterinarians have with pet families, you would frequently hear comments which include the phrase “quality of life.” Quality of life can refer to a broad set of factors impacting day to day living: income, housing availability, gross domestic product, availability of safe water and foodstuffs, or an intangible characteristic like happiness.  But in a veterinary office, pet families are referring to health-related quality of life (HRQoL).

Health Related Quality of Life
The Centers for Disease Control classify HRQoL on two levels – the individual and the community, but the definition for HRQoL is the same for both: “an individual’s or group’s perceived physical and mental health over time.” A large body of research exists on the impact of disease on our quality of life, and now studies into how disease impacts our pets’ quality of life are being published too.

Seizures and HRQoL
One such study looked at quality of life issues in dogs with seizures receiving antiseizure medication.

Control of seizures and drug side effects and, you guessed it, quality of life were top concerns in the minds of these dog families. They felt if seizure frequency was less than one seizure every three months, adequate control had been achieved and quality of life was good. This type of information helps veterinarians to work towards optimal management of this chronic disease.

Feline Diabetes and HRQoL
Diabetes is common in cats and typically requires insulin injections once or twice daily.

An international survey of cat families assessed HRQoL issues for European and North American cats. While this study was designed to measure the impact of treatment for diabetes on cats, nine of the top ten factors impacting quality of life impacted the humans rather than the diabetic cats. Cats seemed not to resent daily injections, but their humans worried about not giving insulin correctly and causing a hypoglycemic event. Caring for a diabetic cat put their social life on a time schedule and restricted travel due to the need for regular insulin injections.  In spite of the negative impact on human quality of life, the caretakers of diabetic cats felt they and their cat had a special bond.

Obesity and HRQoL
Compared to seizures and diabetes, a few extra pounds on Fluffy or Fido doesn’t seem serious enough to create a decline in HRQoL.  Yet in a study from England, an increase in body condition score of dogs to the overweight or obese category resulted in a measurable decline in quality of life.  You, as the caretaker of your pet, have total control over their diet and by keeping your pet slim can improve her quality of life.

The findings of these and other veterinary HRQoL surveys confirm that illness in your pet is not guaranteed to lower their quality of life and your pet’s illness may actually strengthen the bond between you and your favorite fur baby.

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