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Quality of Life

At Aspen Animal Wellness we understand that the hardest decision you will have to face as a pet owner is “Is my pet experiencing a good quality of life?” There are many factors to consider in making this decision and it is our responsibility to help you through them.
The term “quality of life” is very subjective. It is highly dependent on the disease process your dog or cat is experiencing, your pet’s personality and your personal beliefs.

Each pet reacts to changes in their body differently. This is highly dependent on the disease process at hand which is why in-depth discussions with your pet’s regular veterinarian are so important. It is an understanding of your pet’s disease process that will help you properly evaluate their quality of life.

Below is a list of some of the most common factors that are taken into consideration when determining and evaluating the quality of life of your pet and what roles they play in the difficult decision for euthanasia.

Pets typically do not externalize pain the same way humans do but they do experience it. With this understanding, it’s important to realize that when pets do show us outward displays of pain, we should be reaching for strong medications like opioids, not just anti-inflammatories. If you’re interested in a much more in-depth look at pain in pets, pick up Dr. Temple Grandin’s book Animals in Translation and read Chapter 5 “Pain and Suffering.”

Common signs of pain in cats and dogs: Pacing, excessive panting, hiding in unique areas, not seeking interaction with family, growling, snarling, snapping, immobility, whining, not eating, flinching when touched.

Many pet owners feel terribly guilty over the natural annoyance they feel when their pet becomes incontinent. This is normal; keep in mind pets do not like to “soil their den” and as a result, may experience anxiety which may be visible by increased panting or appearing uncomfortable. If left unkempt incontinence can lead to bed sores and eventually systemic infection in severe cases.
If you have been an earnest observer of your pet’s behavior and attitude during his or her lifetime, you will be the best at determining when they no longer seem “happy.” You’ll know when they no longer enjoy food, toys, or the environment around them. Most of all, they no longer enjoy or seek out contact with you and the rest of its family. Most pets are tremendously easy to please, so when it no longer becomes possible to raise a purr or a tail-wag, you should be considering what kind of quality of life your pet is experiencing.
What about a natural death?
Yes, there are those pets that peacefully fall asleep and pass naturally on their own, but just as in humans, this type of peaceful death is rare. Many owners fear their pet passing alone while others do not. Occasionally we are asked to help families through the natural dying process with their pet. For different reasons, these families are against euthanasia. We explain everything we possibly can, from how a natural death may look, how long it may take, what their pet may experience, etc. Inevitably, almost all of these families regret doing this. Most of them comment afterward “I wish I would not have done that, I wish she didn’t have to suffer.” A natural death can be difficult to watch, especially for non-medically oriented people. Most people can watch a human family member in pain much more easily than they can their pet. To an extent, we can talk to other humans through physical pain or discomfort, but there is no comforting a pet that is suffering. Families take this guilt difficultly and we do our very best to not only readily suggest euthanasia when appropriate, but prepare families for a “worst-case” scenario should they chose to wait. (Of course, death is nothing to be fearful of and if your pet does happen to pass on his or her own, it is certainly not a bad thing; it happens in nature frequently!)
Human hospice has a saying “food and water are for the living.” Pets can physiologically survive for many days without food and water, although the lack of appetite or thirst can be a sign that the body has begun shutting down. Appetite stimulants can sometimes help restore the appetite for a certain period of time. Talk with your veterinarian for more information. Also, keep in mind that some pets may never lose their desire to eat. In many cases, appetite can be a good indication of the internal function (or dysfunction) of the pet.
Arthritis and mobility issues are common as our pets age. Usually, these signs first become evident at night when the pet begins to pace around the house. It may progress to falling, unable to stand, unable to urinate/defecate, and panting heavily. During the later stages, you may find your pet very anxious. As they (usually dogs) begin to understand that they cannot get up and down on their own accord, their natural anxiety level rises as they start to feel like “prey” instead of being the predator. They can no longer protect their family as they once did. When anti-inflammatories and other medications cease to work, quality of life should be a concern.
Waiting Too Long
The more times families experience the loss of a pet, the sooner they make the decision to euthanize. Pet parents experiencing the decline or terminal illness of a pet for the first time will generally wait until the very end to make that difficult decision. They are fearful of doing it too soon and giving up without a good fight. Afterward, however, most regret waiting too long. They reflect back on the past days, weeks, or months, and feel guilty for putting their pet through those numerous trips to the vet or uncomfortable medical procedures that did not improve their pet’s quality of life. The next time they witness the decline of a pet, they are much more likely to make the decision at the beginning of the decline instead of the end.
Weigh Your Options Carefully
If the most important thing to you is waiting until the last possible minute to say goodbye to your baby, you will most likely be facing an emergency, stress-filled, suffering condition for your pet. It may not be peaceful and you may regret waiting too long. If a peaceful, calm, loving, family-oriented end of life experience is what you wish for your pet, then you will probably need to make the decision a little sooner than you want. Making that decision should not be about ceasing any suffering that has already occurred, but about preventing suffering from occurring in the first place. Above all, our pets do not deserve to hurt.

We are here to help make this time a bit easier on everyone. We are aimed at maintaining comfort, quality of life, and the human-animal bond for as long as needed; we are here for you!

We like to use the HHHHHMM scale as an evaluation of your pet’s quality of life. It looks at a number of factors – hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and more good days than bad – and asks you to give a value to each category.


It’s never easy when it comes time to say goodbye to our beloved pets. You will have several options to consider in regards to this final appointment. Some people want to be with their pet every step of this final journey while others cannot bear to see their pet’s journey come to an end. Neither of these decisions is right or wrong. Regardless of your choice the doctors and staff of Aspen Animal Wellness will do everything in their power to make this a peaceful final moment for you and your pet.

Here is a link to a booklet that can help with your planning and decision making.


Our team can guide you through the needed decision making and will provide you with the costs associated with your options. We will complete all necessary paperwork and collect the fee before we proceed to the euthanasia.

You will be asked how you would like your pet’s aftercare handled. You can take your pet home for burial, but this is not an option many people feel comfortable doing. We also offer cremation services. We use a company called West Coast Pet Memorial Services. They are incredibly gentle and respectful and have been in business for many years, we fully trust them with our patients. We utilize their private cremation and communal cremation options. With private cremation you receive your pet’s ashes back in an urn of your choosing. They have 8 options that come with the service; however, they also have additional urns available for additional cost.

With Communal cremation, your pet’s ashes are not returned to you but rather are scattered along the Truckee River. Some people opt to further memorialize their pet by having jewelry or orbs or other products made with their pet’s ashes. West Coast Pet Memorial has many products available for you to choose. Click the link below for more information on these products.

Memorial Products – West Coast Pet Memorial Services

The doctors and staff at Aspen Animal Wellness understand this is a difficult time for you.  Below are links to several resources to help you understand and cope with the grieving process.

Pet Compassion Care Line – 24/7 Grief Support.  To speak to a counselor today call


Grief Support Resources:

Coping with the Loss of a Companion Animal – Gateway-Grief-Support-Resource-Book-June-2019.pdf (

Ohio State Coping with Pet Loss – coping_with_loss_brochure_2020_web.pdf (

Helping Children Cope With Pet Loss –