Dog Owners Desire Quality of Life Discussions & Assessment

Jane R. Shaw, DVM, PhD, Colorado State University

Lisa J. Hunter, MSW, Colorado State University

ArticleLast Updated December 20233 min read
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In the Literature

Hale H, Blackwell E, Roberts C, Roe E, Mullan S. Broadening the veterinary consultation: dog owners want to talk about more than physical health. Animals (Basel). 2023;13(3):392. doi:10.3390/ani13030392

The Research …

Assessing quality of life (QoL) is a cornerstone of veterinary medicine1; however, there is a gap between clinician and pet owner perceived expectations and communication.2-4 

In this study, dog owners (n = 410) completed an online survey about their experience, comfort, and opinions regarding clinician–owner discussions of canine health, including QoL. Although there is some belief that owners are resistant to assessment tools and unwilling to discuss QoL during routine visits,5 survey results indicated a willingness and desire among owners to discuss more than physical health, with 51.4% of respondents reporting QoL should be discussed at every visit. Most (95.8%) owners indicated feeling comfortable discussing QoL with veterinary staff, but only 32% reported taking part in QoL conversations during consultations. In addition, 70.8% of respondents expressed a desire for QoL assessments that could be completed outside the clinic, indicating implicit interest in QoL discussions.   

Printable handout: Help clients reach educated and informed decisions about pet quality of life

Follow-up interviews were conducted with 4 owners for in-depth exploration of their experiences with QoL discussions and questionnaires and how those experiences impacted their emotions. Answers revealed that using QoL assessment tools positively impacted clinician–owner interactions. The authors theorized this was a result of moving away from a paternalistic model of communication and toward a shared, relationship-centered approach to care that reduced owner anxiety and uncertainty, helping facilitate collaboration and increasing owner education, understanding, and engagement.

… The Takeaways

Key pearls to put into practice:

  • Clinician–owner communication gaps can be reconciled by communicating through partnership and relationship-centered care. Most owners want to work together for their pet’s care and engage in discussions to develop a deeper understanding of their pet’s health and foster informed decision-making.

  • Owner permission should be requested before discussing QoL—which may be an emotional and sensitive topic—to ensure a gentle and respectful transition into the conversation.

  • Conversations with owners should feature language (eg, we, let’s, our, together, as a team) that fosters a sense of inclusion and mutuality.

  • Owners should be invited to share their thoughts, feelings, knowledge, experiences, beliefs, values, and communication preferences in order to elicit their perspective and minimize assumptions.

  • Resources should be provided to owners. Handouts can help owners organize their thoughts and assimilate information, and QoL assessment tools and guides can help foster a proactive approach to QoL discussions, bolster coping strategies, and prepare owners for difficult decisions.