MSU helping pet owners better assess animals' quality of life

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers are determined to remove some of the doubt and second-guessing that many people experience when their pets' health declines considerably.

Their quest has led to the development of a new survey to help pet owners more accurately observe changes in their dogs' quality of life while the pets are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

According to, the objective results from the survey published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association can help owners make more informed decisions regarding life-prolonging procedures or euthanasia as a means to end suffering.

"Dogs obviously can't tell you how they're feeling, and sometimes pet owners may not know what changes in canine behavior they should pay attention to," said Maria Iliopoulou, lead author, veterinarian, and doctoral student at MSU's Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation, 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 researchers recruited a small group of 29 dog owners to test the survey. Concurrent with cancer diagnosis, participating owners completed a questionnaire about the dog's behavior at that time as well as how the dog behaved six months earlier. The owners then filled out questionnaires three and six weeks after chemotherapy, where they documented changes in the dogs' behavior. Veterinarians also filled out brief surveys about their observations, reported. 

The researchers wanted to find common elements in veterinarians' and pet owners' surveys that could eventually help the two sides converse more effectively about quality of life and medical decisions, Iliopoulou said.

"We wanted to see if the owner and the clinician would agree," she said. "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 verbalize them in an understandable way to facilitate client and clinician communication regarding patient-care decisions."

According to the study abstract, after comparing observations from both veterinarians and pet owners, researchers discovered three significant predictors of canine cancer patient quality of life: play behaviors, signs of illness, and canine happiness as perceived by owners. These indicators will be useful for animal cancer clinics seeking to evaluate patients' quality of life, Iliopoulou said.

Having obtained results from their small-scale study, the next step for researchers is to run a larger study with hundreds of dog owners, reported.

Iliopoulou said she also wants to eventually adapt the study for animals that have other illnesses besides cancer.

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