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JoAnna Lou
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Assessing Quality of Life
Survey helps determine when to make the most difficult of decisions

Deciding when to euthanize a sick pet is one of the hardest decisions that we have to make. When my cat of 18 years became seriously ill, my family was too emotional to make objective decisions. In hindsight, I think we waited too long to put him to sleep, but we wanted to make sure that we tried everything to extend his life. 

 
Now a new survey, developed by researchers at Michigan State University, may help us make clear decisions in these stressful situations. The pilot version of their questionnaire was created to help assess the quality of life of dogs undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
 
In their study, families completed a questionnaire at the time of diagnosis comparing the dog's current behavior with their typical behavior six months prior. Follow-up surveys were filled out three and six weeks later to document changes in behavior as the pups underwent chemotherapy. The veterinarians also filled out shorter questionnaires based on their observations. The separate surveys aimed to balance the more subjective, but complete view of the people who live with the dogs (since they see the day-to-day behavior changes) and the objective, scientific view of the veterinarians.  
 
The researchers found that family and veterinarian responses were fairly well-matched, showing that the questionnaire can be a helpful way to find common ground for treatment decisions. The answers were particularly aligned on three questions involving changes in the dogs' play behavior, clinical signs of disease, and perceived canine happiness. Agreement on those questions led researchers to use them as effective indicators of quality of life that could be used in animal cancer clinics.
 
Now the team is planning a follow-up study with hundreds of dogs and their families so that the survey can be adapted to a wider range of illnesses. This tool could potentially help countless stressed families make educated decisions for their pets.
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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by G.L. Kohuth.

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