Creating a Senior-Friendly Hospital

Creating a Senior Pet Champions team that develops senior care standard operating procedures and is proactive in identifying areas for improving the senior care experience can create a practice culture that emphasizes optimum care for older pets. This approach will not only inspire more families to bring their senior pets to your practice but also ensure these patients are treated with the best care possible.

Evaluating the Physical Space for Senior Patients

When developing a plan for a senior-friendly hospital, consider the physical components of the clinic that may be a challenge to the aging pet. Is the pet able to walk up to and into the building easily? Do the floors support senior pets? Are the senior cats kept in a calm area away from dogs, and are they able to be comfortable during their visit? What is the noise level in the lobby, examination rooms, and treatment area?

The exterior of the veterinary practice should be examined, including the parking lot, for obstacles the senior pet may need to overcome. For example, are there a few steps (or a curb) to climb to get to the entrance? Even one step up may be a struggle for an older dog, and installing appropriate ramps can increase ease of access to the front door of the practice. Flooring in the lobby, examination rooms, and treatment area should also be assessed, and, if necessary, bathmats or yoga mats can be used to accommodate the senior pet. Consider covering scales and tables with similar mats so that the older dog or cat will have better grip and feel more comfortable. Senior pets may have noise and light sensitivities, and adjusting lighting and installing noise dampening tiles for walls could help. Pheromone sprays in the examination rooms and the lobby may also help to relax anxious animals.

Senior pets who require treatment or hospitalization require good traction in the kennels and cages, additional padding in the recovery areas, decreased stress handling, sufficient warmth, and minimal noise in treatment and surgical recovery areas.

Planning for the Senior Pet’s Appointment

Providing a senior pet owner a questionnaire to fill out before a visit can help clients focus on behavior and note changes they may be seeing with their senior pet. When a family schedules an appointment, provide a species-specific senior pet questionnaire. Instructions on taking video of pets can be included, and clients can be asked to take pictures and videos displaying mobility and any abnormal behavior seen at home. In addition, images of the pet’s food and water area and sleeping environment may also be helpful.

When booking the appointment, enough time must be allocated for the veterinarian to properly give a thorough examination and assessment of the pet. Extra time will be needed to discuss disease conditions, environmental adjustment suggestions, medical therapies, and family goals for the patient. It is helpful to also include a discussion about the progression of the ailments and diseases the family is managing. This will help establish expectations early in the senior care process and assist with decision making later.

At the conclusion of the appointment, the client should be given handouts with detailed information that may include diagnosed disease(s), details on medications dispensed (or recommended), and specific product recommendations and recommendations for follow-up care. The veterinary team should actively educate the client to avoid dismissing certain age-related changes as merely “old age,” a catch-all phrase that inadequately addresses the specific and often treatable conditions affecting the senior dog or cat.

Avoid just discussing the need for biannual diagnostics to uncover hidden diseases with clients. Instead, focus on all the expert care, ideas, and support the hospital will provide to ensure their senior pet’s quality and quantity of life. After each healthcare visit, provide the client with patient-specific written information and instructions because appointments can sometimes involve information overload.

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

Boehringer Ingelheim
Care Credit logo