Time Spent Together = Better Senior Pet Care
With pet owners at home for longer stretches of time amid the pandemic, pet care has been top of mind, especially for senior pets.
It almost seems counterintuitive to associate something good with a worldwide pandemic, but while people have spent months staying at home and often working from home, companion animals have benefitted from the extra time and attention. With less direct human interaction and much more time spent with pets, the importance of the human-animal bond has taken on a deeper meaning and shown just how important animals are to our emotional health and well-being.
A study from Banfield in May showed that the impact of COVID-19 “may have lasting effects on how people approach pet ownership.” As a result of staying at home, 84% of owners feel more attuned to their pet’s health, while 67% plan to make changes in how they care for their pets. A number of owners are already doing just that, with 37% paying more attention to their animal’s personal care like dental health, and 42% exercising their pets more than before the pandemic. Still, more good news for your veterinary customers is that 20% of owners say they are committed to scheduling more preventive care check-ups for their pets after the pandemic than before.
Benefits for aging pets
All this extra time with their people may be of particular benefit to the health and well-being of senior pets. More walks and attention make for a happy companion, and regular exercise helps control weight, keeps joints limber, and engages the brain. More time at home means more opportunities for pet owners to notice activity levels, behavioral changes, more trips to the water bowl or litter box, or mobility issues that point to potential health problems that may have been overlooked before.
Whether the clinics you work with are still offering curbside service, or have been able to resume in-clinic appointments, this is an excellent time for them to reach out to their clients with middle-aged and older pets to stress the importance of wellness and diagnostic exams, and preventive care. With at least a third of dogs and cats in the U.S. aged 7 or older, this group likely makes up a large part of most practices. Owners of pets with chronic conditions may have missed or put off some regular appointments this year. Electronic records make it easy to run reports based on age or condition and sort by the date of the last visit. A phone call or personalized email to discuss the benefits of twice-yearly exams for aging pets, the importance of regular treatments for chronic illness, and explaining the clinic’s current appointment protocol will strengthen relationships and assure owners that their pets will receive excellent care, even if they can’t be in the exam room.
Reviewing the variety of products you offer and the services available for aging pets is good preparation for discussions about the senior care protocols for each of your clinics. Keep a list of popular items in this category for reference. You may even want to do a web search of senior pet products to see what other items fall into this group that you may have missed. Then take a look at your clinic’s purchase history. Does it include diagnostic tests, joint health supplements, NSAIDS, specialty diets, probiotics, weight control, dental care, and calming products? Are they ordering medications or supplements for the treatment of chronic illness such as diabetes, cardiac or respiratory disease, cognitive dysfunction, thyroid, kidney, or liver issues?
Your conversations about senior care might include questions about wellness plans. Do your clients offer plans targeted toward their older patients? Wellness plans allow clients to budget a package of annual veterinary services with a focus on preventive care. The convenience and ability to spread out the cost of health care may be especially appealing to pet owners in these difficult times.
Client talking points
Achieving client compliance can be tough even in the best of times. Do your clients offer an online pharmacy, and – just as important – are they getting the word out to their customers? The research service, Diggo, recently reported that only about 16% of pet owners think their veterinary clinic has an online pharmacy. With more people than ever staying home and ordering online, your clinics need to be telling their customers at every appointment and using Facebook, Instagram, their clinic websites, email, and other platforms to get the word out. Social distancing may make it difficult for senior pets to get regular laser treatments or physical therapy, so clinics may need to get creative with the services they offer. Renting therapy lasers to clients, like the My Pet Laser, is one example.
The fact that November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month provides another great talking point with your clinics. Increased pet adoptions and fosters this year have been another positive result of people spending more time at home. Older animals often languish in shelters and are the last to find homes. This is the perfect time for veterinarians to focus on the benefits of adopting an older animal on their social media platforms, bring awareness to senior health care, and the fact that adopted older pets can live many happy years after they leave the shelter. Your clinics may want to partner with a local shelter or rescue to promote senior pet adoption and offer incentives to current or new clients who adopt an older companion.
Thanks to better medicine, better nutrition, and an emphasis on preventive care, pet lifespans have risen dramatically just over the last few decades. Initiatives like the Dog Aging Project – a 10-year health study that will follow thousands of dogs worldwide – hope to identify the biological and environmental factors that maximize health longevity, and how genetics, lifestyle, and environment influence aging. I’ve enrolled my dog in the study, so I’ll be interested to follow the findings.
For all of us who have pets, our beloved companions can never live long enough, and for many of us the bond with them has grown even stronger this year. Helping your customers give pet owners the peace of mind that their senior animals are receiving the best care brings great value to the practice and their patients.
The Dog Aging Project
The Dog Aging Project is “an innovative initiative that brings together a community of dogs, owners, veterinarians, researchers, and volunteers to carry out the most ambitious canine health study in the world,” according to the project designers. The Dog Aging Project will follow tens of thousands of companion dogs for 10 years in order to identify biological and environmental factors that maximize health longevity. To nominate your dog, visit dogagingproject.org.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month
While small kittens and puppies may be adorable, older pets are just as loving and loyal as their younger counterparts, said the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Not to mention, adopting a senior animal companion comes with some advantages:
- Grown-up pets don’t require the constant monitoring and training that puppies and kittens do.
- Many are already housetrained.
- Since senior pets are fully grown, you’ll be immediately aware of important information like personality type and grooming requirements, making it easier to choose the perfect pet for your family.
- “It is a sad fact that senior pets are often the last to be adopted from shelters, putting them at an increased risk for euthanasia,” said the ASPCA on its website. “When you adopt a senior pet, you’re not only welcoming a lifetime of love into your home, you’re also saving a precious life.”
For more information, visit aspca.org.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Solovyova