Dogs, Chronic Pain, And Quality Of Life
In order to take care of dogs as well as possible, especially as they age, we must have a way to assess them for chronic pain and quality of life (QOL). Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for more than three months, and can be observed from subtle signs such as a dog acting more withdrawn, walking differently, being less playful, and more. Quality of life is even harder to recognize since, by definition, a being’s quality of life depends on their own perception of their life relative to their values – and these are things that we cannot simply ask a dog.
In this paper, the authors outline a broad discussion of how we can best approach understanding and measuring both chronic pain and QOL in aging dogs. Firstly, the authors point out that the two are often closely connected. After all, extensive chronic pain can undoubtedly lower a dog’s QOL. On the other hand, a dog’s QOL can greatly impact their perception of their chronic pain: a good QOL could make the pain seem not so bad, and a bad QOL could intensify the pain’s subjective effects.
A second point the authors mention is the complexity of measuring both QOL and of chronic pain, separately and individually. Measuring chronic pain requires familiarity with how the subject normally behaves under specific conditions so that changes caused by chronic pain can be determined. Even though guardians usually know their companion dogs fairly well, several studies have found that they are not always accurate judges in assessing their dogs’ chronic pain. Therefore, teaching guardians techniques to more accurately assess chronic pain and QOL in their dogs is crucial, and working with them is essential to delivering the best treatment possible.
Accuracy can be a challenge for veterinarians as well; vets should be practicing measuring QOL and chronic pain, and should be trained early on to do so, so that they can be skilled at making assessments before a dog’s condition deteriorates. Assessments should be made on a timely, regular basis, and veterinarians should be explicit about how they are making their measurements and what can and cannot be determined from those measurements. Likewise, the physical effects of chronic pain often go beyond the body part that the pain originates from, and vets should keep this in mind as they work to identify problem areas.
Of course, the end goal isn’t to measure QOL and pain just for curiosity’s sake, but to make improvements upon them for that individual dog. Ultimately, the authors do not provide specific technical instructions for measuring pain or QOL. Instead, they emphasize the importance of keeping the bigger picture in mind.
QOL is not just a matter of clinical health, but also of general happiness and welfare. Therefore, measurements and assessments should be geared towards practicality and treatment, pointing us in the direction of concrete actions. Keeping this in mind will help both veterinarians and guardians in coming up with ways to assess a dog’s QOL and chronic pain in ways that best benefit each individual.