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Start a senior wellness program


What every senior program needs?and why.

1. A comprehensive package

In order to determine which diagnostic tests to run, first you need to know what you're looking for, says Caitlin Rivers, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and technician trainer at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pa. Common conditions older pets are likely to develop include-but aren't limited to-obesity and periodontal, heart, kidney, liver, and thyroid disease. To rule these diseases in or out, a basic senior wellness package should include a wellness exam, senior, chemistry, and complete blood work panels, electrolyte checks, and urinalysis, Rivers says. (For senior tests at a glance, click here.)

Setting your practice's approach to nutrition and exercise is also vital to your senior program because obesity directly contributes to the incidence of osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension-all conditions that crop up in older pets. Many practices recommend-and carry-special diets to control obesity and its related illnesses. Many also suggest nutritional supplements to ease arthritis pain. But don't try to stock every food-related product available. “You should only pick stuff that you'll actually recommend,” Rivers says.


2. A patient database

It's no secret pets age faster than people. But when should you start talking to clients about senior care? As a general rule, pets are considered seniors at 7 years old. But that's not a magic number. “The best time to start talking about senior wellness is before patients need it,” Rivers says. Then watch each pet individually, says Gina Toman, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C.

“Certain breeds age differently so look at the average life span,” Toman says. Periodontal disease is appearing earlier and earlier in smaller breeds, Toman says, so it's smart to start screening those dogs at 4 years of age. It's a good idea to set up a system in your records to flag full-fledged and soon-to-be seniors so there's a visual reminder to get the discussion going.

To download a sample senior wellness letter to send or e-mail clients, click here.

BONUS: Click here to download a senior wellness report card.

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