Improve your veterinary practice's senior patient care

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Q. How can we improve the service we offer to clients with senior pets?

"We try to mirror our puppy approach when reaching out to clients with senior pets," says Kyle Palmer, CVT, practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic PC in Silverton, Ore. He recommends creating a handout for clients that explores some common questions:

1. Does my senior pet still need vaccinations?

2. Is it safe for my older pet to undergo a procedure that requires anesthesia?

3. What are some signs of quality-of-life changes that I should watch for in my pet?

Building a specific set of recommendations, such as diagnostics and approaches to joint issues, is very helpful to clients, Palmer says. At his practice, team members ask clients with older cats to report when Fluffy begins to urinate or defecate just outside or near the litter pan. While most clients mistake this behavior for senility, Palmer says it's often an early sign of arthritic changes that make it difficult to climb into the litter box.

When you focus on the needs of older pets, it's also important to make veterinary visits as easy as possible. For example, older dogs may need assistance returning to their vehicle, Palmer says.

Discussing senior issues may also open the door to talk about other serious topics, such as end-of-life issues. "While it's a touchy subject, a handout describing what the dog's final procedure may look like is helpful," Palmer says. "How does euthanasia work? Can clients be with their pet—and do they have to be? What are their options for the pet after euthanasia? In our case, we live in a small community, so we've made a point to offer the option to perform euthanasia at the client's home. This one service does so much for families and how they handle their loss."

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