Educating the Veterinary Team

Education of the veterinary team is vital if the practice wishes to provide the best possible senior care. Aging pets often require special nursing care because of changes in both physical and mental abilities. If the healthcare team can recognize and address health issues that can influence the course of treatment, disease management, patient care, and outcomes will improve.

Formal training for the veterinary team should involve education on the process of aging, senior pet–friendly techniques, and modification of the clinic environment to suit the needs of the pet. If the staff understands that senior pets may be frail, both physically and mentally, simple actions such as prolonging appointment times for senior pets or offering gentle holding techniques can be beneficial for the pet and the client. If the team understands the aging process, then they are better able to counsel the client on how to manage their pets. Every team member should be familiar with the common symptoms of aging and invest time in learning how these changes will affect their patients. Low-stress handling and providing more comfort measures for the senior pet are important in relieving anxiety and making senior visits safe and rewarding for the caregiver and patient alike.80,81

The veterinary team should be aware of other methods for optimum senior pet care, including:

  • Examination rooms can be repurposed into senior care rooms with the addition of yoga mats to prevent slippage; cushions and low beds for physical comfort; and natural light, soft music, and appropriate pheromone scents for the patients to relieve anxiety, soothe the patient and the caregiver, and help to relieve pain.
  • The use of a senior pet questionnaire can help to prioritize the goals of the caregiver as well as the veterinary focus for the examination.
  • The senior care room should contain materials about caring for senior pets that can be quickly and easily shared with the caregiver.
  • Treating larger patients on the floor and performing most tasks and sample collections in the room in the presence of the caregiver can ease anxiety and increase comfort.
  • If the patient requires hospitalization, ensure comfort and safety for the duration of the hospital stay. Mesh beds can be used to keep incontinent pets dry, and warm blankets and items from home can comfort hospitalized seniors.
  • Updating the caregiver regularly on the status of the patient helps build trust and reduce anxiety for the client.80

The caregiver-pet bond is unique to all animals, and veterinary teams should recognize that this bond means different things to different people. Practitioners should work with clients to make sure the animal is not suffering, as sometimes families have difficulty letting go of a pet at the end of life. Teams should be educated on how to recognize and anticipate bereavement and grief. Support should be provided for team members who work in emotionally charged situations and may feel overtaxed or take on the pain clients are feeling. Veterinary team members should be encouraged to seek help when needed.80

The 2023 AAHA Senior Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats are generously supported by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, CareCredit, IDEXX, and Zoetis.

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