How to assess the quality of life of old or sick horses?

Picture by F.Muhammad

Currently available wellness assessment tools could be adapted to create a quality of life protocol, which could help make end-of-life decisions, a study has found.

The quality of life of horses is important in decision-making in veterinary medicine, wrote Mariessa Long and her colleagues in the journal Animals. It is particularly relevant for chronically ill or aged horses when euthanasia is being considered.

“Despite its relevance, however, there is no universally accepted definition of equine quality of life.”

The researchers, together with the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, defined equine quality of life as an individual’s subjective evaluation of their life, involving a balance between positive and negative experiences of emotions.

Various factors can influence an animal’s quality of life, such as the satisfaction of its needs, its health, its social relationships, its control and its choices. The extent to which an individual’s quality of life is influenced by something also depends on the individual’s preferences, personality, and experiences in their life so far.

It is not necessary for the horse to think about its life to have a quality of life. It is enough, they said, for the horse to have “a sense of well-being,” which may or may not include cognitive assessments of its life experiences.

Deciding on treatment or euthanasia for horses with chronic or geriatric conditions requires humans to take responsibility. “Such a decision always comes with an implicit idea of ​​what it means for a horse to have a good life,” they said. This will probably also take into account what the future holds for the horse.

“To our knowledge,” they said, “there is no assessment tool for chronically ill or aged horses that assesses horses’ quality of life, defined as the horse’s assessment of its life “. However, tools exist to assess equine welfare in different contexts.

In their paper, the review team examined how currently available equine welfare, quality of life, welfare and happiness assessment tools define and attempt to measure these concepts.

The authors performed a systematic search of published articles. A total of 862 records were initially identified, but 549 were excluded after abstracts and titles were screened. The other 65 have been read in full.

Fourteen publications describing 10 equine welfare assessment tools and an approach to assess equine quality of life in veterinary practice were identified.

“In order to be suitable for quality of life assessments of horses with chronic or geriatric conditions, the currently available welfare assessment tools that were reviewed for this article would require some adjustments,” they found.

“When it comes to informing end-of-life decisions for a horse with a chronic or geriatric condition, most welfare assessment tools do not sufficiently meet the prioritization requirements of the subjective mental experience of the horse, integrating criteria into an overall score or focusing on the long term as opposed to momentary states.

One of the protocols, a welfare assessment tool for free-ranging horses based on the Five Domains Model, is a promising candidate for a horse quality-of-life assessment tool, they said. “However, this tool would require adjustment to horses with chronic and geriatric conditions and their long-term mental states, as well as establishing an overall score.”

The review team noted that the various well-being assessment tools covered a range of parameters that are potential factors in quality of life, looking at aspects of palliative care, monitoring quality of life and any changes in response to interventions aimed at maintaining or improving a horse’s welfare. life.

“For the future, other parameters focusing on the mental state of the horse and parameters specific to horses with chronic or geriatric conditions should be developed and included in quality of life assessment tools.”

Their surveys also revealed that there is no strict separation between the assessment of well-being and quality of life. This, they said, highlights the importance of providing a definition of the targeted concept of any assessment tool.

“Some of these have the potential to inform the development of a quality of life assessment tool supporting thoughtful decision-making towards the end of life in horses,” they concluded. However, they should be adjusted to focus on horse experiences, to provide overall quality of life, and to be suitable for horses with chronic or geriatric conditions.

The review team consisted of Long, Christian Dürnberger, Florien Jenner, Zsófia Kelemen, Ulrike Auer and Herwig Grimm.

Long, M.; Durnberger, C.; Jenner, F.; Kelemen, Z.; Auer, U.; Grimm, H. Quality of life in equine welfare assessment tools: informing decisions for chronically ill and geriatric horses. Animals 2022, 12, 1822. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12141822

The review, published under a Creative Commons Licensecan be read here.

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