For both canine and feline patients, veterinarians should view the pet’s senior years as distinct from other life stages. The senior dog or cat requires a tailored healthcare plan including preventive, diagnostic, and treatment protocols that are specific to the aging animal’s physiologic needs. In addition, families with older pets may have a strong bond of affection and interdependence that may not be measured in monetary terms and should be considered in the overall healthcare plan. A useful perspective for the veterinary team may include the following considerations:
- For many clients, their pets’ senior years are as important and meaningful as the sum of all the preceding life stages.
- Managing the health and wellbeing of the aging pet is an important aspect of clinical practice.
Healthcare decisions affecting the older pet may be clinically challenging for the veterinarian and may be affected by the physical, psychosocial, emotional, or spiritual needs of the pet’s family. Optimal care of the senior pet involves a multifaceted approach, including diagnostics, medical and interventional therapies, pain management, nutrition, dentistry, anesthesia, modifying the environmental setting, managing behavioral problems, and recognizing and managing comorbidities. Senior care also includes educating and planning for end-of-life care for the patient and supporting the caregivers and family in this process. The Guidelines include a comprehensive table, organized by body system, which presents diagnostic approaches for commonly encountered diseases of senior dogs and cats. The Guidelines also include a table of common diagnostic tests and recommended frequencies for senior patients and home care tips for clients.
These Guidelines represent the recommendations of a task force of experts with decades of collective experience in caring for aging canine and feline patients. The authors have organized the Guidelines into three principal sections:
- Evaluating and managing the healthy senior pet.
- Evaluating and managing the unhealthy senior pet, which includes an end-of-life section.
- Developing education for both veterinary teams and clients that emphasizes the care and wellbeing of the senior pet.
These Guidelines offer recommendations that can assist practices in developing additional education resources that highlight personalized senior pet care. This approach can promote:
- Expertise and consistent messaging in senior care among the veterinary team.
- Client education that creates awareness of “best practices in senior pet care” for maintaining the health of older dogs and cats.
- Involvement of the entire veterinary team in educating clients on the health and quality of life (QOL) of senior pets.
The Guidelines are not intended to be all-inclusive in their recommendations, but to present an evidence-guided framework for senior pet healthcare. The text cites various previously published clinical guidelines on specific topics such as dentistry, pain management, anesthesia, nutrition, and end-of-life care that practitioners can refer to for in-depth recommendations appropriate for the senior dog or cat.
A focus on senior pet care has many benefits for veterinary practices and their clients. These include strengthening the human-animal bond, enhancing and extending the patient’s quality and duration of life, and deepening the veterinary/client/patient relationship.