Methodologies for Assessing Horses' Quality of Life Needed

Methodologies for Assessing Horses' Quality of Life Needed

"More structured approaches to performing QOL assessment on a regular basis may prove particularly useful for new graduates or difficult situations such as chronic disease or geriatric patients," Yeates added.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Unlike humans, cats, dogs, and even zoo animals, objective methods to help equine veterinarians address their patients' quality of life (QOL) have yet to be developed. Presently, veterinarians rely on subjective measure of QOL, which are invariably affected by personal biases and possible errors, according to researchers from the United Kingdom.

"Assessing QOL is a core part of clinical decision making for all equine veterinary problems, yet we currently do not possess sufficient aids for QOL assessment," remarked James Yeates, BVSc, BSc, DWEL, PhD, MRCVS, from the University of Bristol's Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, in the U.K.

Working to combat this problem, Yeates and colleague Russell Parker, BVSc, MRCVS, suggested six steps that equine veterinarians and horse owners alike can use to improve their ability to assess their patient's QOL:

  1. Decide which aspects of the horse's life affect his QOL
  2. Identify what information can be useful to assess these aspects
  3. Develop an appropriate assessment method
  4. Infer the patient's expected QOL
  5. Make a decision about actions or recommendations
  6. Achieve that decision

"QOL entails more than simply 'medical' issues," noted Yeates. "Husbandry issues such as care, exercise, and nutrition also impact a patient's mental and physical health.

"More structured approaches to performing QOL assessment on a regular basis may prove particularly useful for new graduates or difficult situations such as chronic disease or geriatric patients," he added.

Yeates and Parker encouraged practitioners to report and discuss their own QOL assessment methods to help develop and disseminate suitable methodologies for assessing QOL and suggested that this is a critical seventh step.

"Improvements in QOL assessment are relevant to all areas of equine veterinary practice, and several areas of research," Yeates concluded. "Further research may develop QOL assessment in practice, but more important are the personal improvements that each practitioner may achieve."

The study, "Assessment of quality of life in equine patients," is scheduled to be published in an upcoming edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available online.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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