Managing the Caregiver Burden

Caring for a senior pet takes time, patience, money, and emotional and often physical stamina. It can take an emotional and physical toll on the caregivers and lead to caregiver burden. Practices can support clients by developing an education program on caregiver burden. The hospital may alleviate some of the load by helping the client in several ways—for example, providing a Senior Care Kit with lists of people who may be able to provide pet sitting or respite care, offering options for medications that are easier to administer (e.g., using compounding pharmacies to create palatable medications), providing a veterinary technician or assistant to help with the daily care of the pet, and, in some cases, limiting medical treatment to what is essential.

Conflicts in the home regarding the pet’s behavioral changes, financial constraints, emotional guilt, stress, or disputes with partners or family regarding care of the pet may add to the caregiver burden. Providing information on coping mechanisms to caregivers, including resources for accessing mental health professionals, social workers, counselors, and psychologists, in Senior Care Kits can be helpful. Honesty and openness about the care that may be required for the senior patient currently and in the future is paramount. Developing a plan together with the client that recognizes and works within their limitations is the best course of action for limiting caregiver burden. For example, if the dog is panting and pacing all night, suggesting a dental cleaning may not be the best thing to focus on—even if it is the most medically relevant issue to treat. Alleviating sleep disturbances first may relieve caregiver stress and then allow the client to focus on other medical concerns.

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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