Evidence suggests pet owners don't always recognize when their pets reach their senior years. Here's how veterinary professionals can help.
Sweet Buttercup doesn’t climb the stairs like she used to. Bud sleeps all the time and doesn’t like to be petted anymore. And Mittens sometimes seems confused and soils outside his litter box. Pet owners often find these behavior changes puzzling—and even frustrating—but they don’t always recognize their pets may be entering their senior years. One-third of pet owners don’t know when their pets will become seniors, according to the Aging Pet Care Awareness Survey conducted by PetAg Inc. At this stage, team members can play a critical role in identifying changes and offering solutions to help pets live more comfortably.
“It’s important to educate owners that their pets will experience changes as they age,” says Julie Mullins, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and the staff training coordinator at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. “As pets age they experience increased pains, system malfunction, and so on.”
Mullins recommends teaching your clients to keep an eye out for these signs in their aging pets:
1. Watch for signs of discomfort. These changes may include panting, pacing, walking when they defecate, taking longer to settle, not wanting to go for walks, or wanting shorter walks.
2. Watch for signs of internal changes. These may include drinking more or less, urinating more, a change in the look or shape of feces, lack of appetite, vomiting, or lethargy.
3. Watch for cognitive changes. Just like people, pets can experience changes in their wake and sleep cycles, loss of house training, and increased clinginess.
“I like to relate older pets to the owner’s 90-year-old grandmother,” Mullins says. “It seems to hit closer to home.”
How-to tip: Prepare clients for the changes
It’s important to teach clients about the changes their aging pet may experience, says Firstline board member Julie Mullins. She offers these tips to connect with clients:
• Become a resource. Your clients need to know if they have any questions, they can call you—so be available to help and answer their questions.
• Prepare for the euthanasia discussion. “Pet owners often ask us how we determine when it’s time to say goodbye,” Mullins says. “We recommend pet owners make a list of three things their pet loves to do. As they become unable to do those things, it might be time. It’s never easy, but they will know.”
• Be sensitive. You may discuss sensitive topics, such as cognitive issues, cancer, and arthritis, Mullins says. And older pet owners may be dealing with these same health issues themselves. “Be empathetic and listen more than you talk,” Mullins says. “You can learn a lot that way.”