Open the door to senior care at your veterinary clinic

Those soft, white muzzles and wise eyes beg for your attention and compassion. Use these easy adaptations to offer a gentle veterinary experience to aging pets.
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Mar 01, 2013

Elderly patients are a large part of every general or specialty practice, and keeping these slightly slower (and slightly wiser?) patients comfortable during their visit allows a more stress-free examination for both team members and patients. There are many small adjustments you can make in any hospital to help geriatric patients' visits flow more smoothly. It's also helpful to offer different diagnostic packages for your hospital's elderly pets.

We all love seeing kittens and puppies at their first few visits. But it can be even more rewarding to follow patients from their first visits into their golden years. Going the extra mile to ensure pets' comfort and health helps you build a stronger connection with pet owners at your practice.

What would Grandma need?

Human medicine offers guidance on many comfort measures to use for elderly pets. Start by thinking of ways you would make your home more comfortable and welcoming to an elderly family member. You can often offer similar adjustments for pets. Older patients may suffer from arthritis and have difficulty ambulating. You can help by placing yoga mats on the exam room floors and tables to help them gain better traction and avoid a fall. Yoga mats can also serve as a runway from the entrance of the building to the exam room. This is something a receptionist can quickly lay down a few minutes before their arrival, or you can opt for a more permanent solution with a flooring that includes granular or rubberized particles to increase traction.

Other solutions include interlocking foam mats, such as play mats for children, which can be relatively inexpensive. Or your hospital may already own kennel mats, which are usually rubber grids that wash easily and also provide great traction. Horse stall mats are usually more expensive, but in a hospital full of animal lovers possibly attainable. These are also easy to clean and work great to cover slick floors.

Soft solutions for hard surfaces

Most elderly patients lose muscle mass as they age, and they may also suffer from painful joints. So providing cushioning for them to lie on is vital to your hospital's setup. The waiting room as well as the exam rooms should include cushion seating instead of a hard floor and hard seating. For an inviting, home-like option, place booths in the lobby area with large cushions and pillows. Your clients will thank you, too. You may also choose individual seats and offer large, comfortable dog bedding on the floor.

In exam rooms, use cushioned seats. And for larger dogs, provide big, fluffy dog beds. Your typical feline patients will, of course, make themselves at home on these as well. Then neatly place extra bedding for pets, such as comforters or blankets, off to the side or in a trunk in the exam room.

Out of sight, top of mind

As pets age, their vision may suffer as well. Often older patients are more likely to develop cataracts or retinal degeneration. To help these patients feel more safe and comfortable, try to reserve a room off to the side, in a quieter area of the hospital. This way patients will be less likely to be startled by loud noises near kennel housing or a treatment area. Placing a bell on your shoe or pant leg will signal to blind patients when you're entering the room or coming near.

Talk to your clients with blind pets to see what they do at home to make their pet more comfortable, and try to follow their lead in the hospital. To avoid collisions with furniture within the hospital, take a scented spray or oil—nothing too strong or irritating—and spray corners in the patient's path on the way to the exam room. For example, if the pet has to pass a reception counter, apply some scented oil to the edge the pet will approach first.

Team members should use short leashes when moving these patients from one area of the hospital to another, such as the trip from exam room to treatment. This way there's less likelihood of patients wrapping around walls where they can't be monitored. This also reduces the chances they'll run into objects and injure themselves—or unknowingly sneak up on a roaming hospital-owned pet and cause an altercation.