One of the most difficult aspects of being a pet owner is understanding your animal's wellbeing and being able to make an informed decision on its future when it becomes seriously ill.

You may be very attached to your dog, but if it is living a painful, suffering existence, then it may be better to put your pooch to sleep.

To make this decision-making process easier, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have developed a new tool that can assess quality of life, as revealed in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoication.

The researchers at MSU created a survey that can help pet owners monitor the quality of life of dogs that are undergoing chemotherapy when suffering from cancer, which can mean they rely less on subjective impressions of how their dog is doing.

"Dogs obviously can't tell you how they're feeling, and sometimes pet owners may not know what changes in canine behavior (behaviour) they should pay attention to," said Maria Iliopoulou, MSU-trained veterinarian and a doctoral student at the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreaction and Resource Studies.

"By having this tool, we can help owners see what's really going on with the animal to improve decision making and facilitate the human-animal bond under the challenging circumstances of cancer diagnosis and treatment."

MSU created the tool through dog owners completing a number of questionnaires from the point of the diagnosis to document the changes in behaviour as the animal went through chemotherapy. The vets administering the medical care also carried out surveys based upon their observations of the dogs.

Through cross-referencing these two sets of questionnaires, MSU researchers were able to see if the owners and vets agreed.

"The owner knows the pet, and the clinician knows the science. That's what the survey is all about, to identify components of a good quality of life and verbalise them in an understandable way to facilitate client and clinician communication regarding patient-care decisions,” Ms Iliopoulou continued.

Results showed that the questions were quite well matched, which meant the surveys were effective at finding a common ground for decisions regarding care.

A follow-up study is planned with hundreds of dogs and owners, much more than the 29 participants in the first round of research. Ms Iliopoulou hopes that the survey can soon be expanded to other animals and illnesses.

Written by: Hannah