The researchers and clinicians within the Dog Aging Project (DAP), a longitudinal cohort study of aging in companion dogs, created and validated a novel survey instrument titled the End of Life Survey (EOLS) to gather owner-reported mortality data about companion dogs.
Bereaved dog owners who participated in the refinement, face validity assessment, or reliability assessment of the EOLS (n = 42) and/or completed the entire survey between January 20 and March 24, 2021 (646).
The EOLS was created and modified by veterinary health professionals and human gerontology experts using published literature, clinical veterinary experience, previously created DAP surveys, and feedback from a pilot study conducted with bereaved dog owners. The EOLS was subjected to qualitative validation methods and post hoc free-text analysis to evaluate its ability to thoroughly capture scientifically relevant aspects of companion dogs’ deaths.
The EOLS was well received with excellent face validity as assessed by dog owners and experts. The EOLS had fair to substantial reliability for the 3 validation themes—cause of death (κ = 0.73; 95% CI, 0.5 to 0.95), perimortem quality of life (κ = 0.49; 95% CI, 0.26 to 0.73), and reason for euthanasia (κ = 0.3; 95% CI, 0.08 to 0.52)—and had no need for any substantial content alterations based on free-text analysis.
The EOLS has proven to be a well-accepted, comprehensive, and valid instrument for capturing owner-reported companion dog mortality data and has the potential to enhance veterinarians’ ability to care for the aging dog population by illuminating their understanding of companion dogs’ end-of-life experiences.
The Dog Aging Project End of Life Survey was used to evaluate factors associated with manner of death (euthanasia vs unassisted death), including cause of death (CoD), reason for euthanasia (RFE) if performed, medical symptoms, old age characteristics, and perimortem quality of life (QoL).
Responses collected between the End of Life Survey launch (January 20, 2021) through December 31, 2021, from 2,570 participants whose dogs died.
Response frequencies were described. Associations between manner of death and medical symptoms or old age characteristics were evaluated using logistic regression. Factors associated with RFE were evaluated using multinomial regression. The effects of CoD, age at death, and QoL on the frequency of euthanasia as the manner of death were evaluated using multivariate logistic regression.
2,195 (85.4%) dogs were euthanized, and 375 (14.6%) experienced unassisted death. The most frequent owner-reported CoD was illness/disease (n = 1,495 [58.1%]). The most frequently reported RFE was pain/suffering (n = 1,080 [49.2% of those euthanized]). As age increased, RFE was more likely to be “poor QoL” than any other response. In a multivariate regression including CoD, chronologic age, and QoL, euthanasia as the manner of death was not significantly associated with age.
Euthanasia was a common manner of death for dogs in the US. Compared with unassisted death, euthanasia was associated with CoD illness/disease, lower QoL scores, and the presence and number of medical symptoms and old age characteristics. Understanding factors associated with manner of death is important to veterinarians who care for dogs at the end of life.