Taking Care of Geriatric Pets

November 2021 |

How to reach an untapped “super senior” market and get them the TLC they deserve.

Mary Gardner, DVM, looks forward to seeing fragile, “spaghetti-legged” geriatric pets in her practice. “Nothing brings me joy like seeing that wobbly dog or skinny old cat needing my care,” says Gardner, a co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice.

A study of 9 million pets conducted by Gardner with the help of VetSuccess in 2018 and 2019 found that an estimated 30% of U.S. dogs are geriatric, and half of them are not being regularly examined by a veterinarian.

Want to reach this untapped market? Gardner offers these insights:

Improving Compliance

Gardner has found that, sadly, almost 56% of dogs and 68% of cats are not seen by a veterinarian in the 6 months prior to euthanasia. “They’re anxious, painful, dehydrated,” says Gardner. “Caregivers are struggling.”

She analyzed the revenue from geriatric pets that did visit a veterinarian and found that revenue averaged $422 per patient in the 12 months prior to euthanasia. Running some numbers she then discovered: If a practice has 1,000 active patients and 30% are geriatric, that’s a pool of 300 patients that might not be getting care—and likely need it. If their compliance increases by just 10%, the practice could bring in estimated yearly additional revenue of $12,660.

Making It Easier

To get started, evaluate your practice and procedures to see how you can make visits easier, less frightening and more comfortable for geriatric pets, Gardner advises:

Plan their visit. Find out if the pet has mobility or other issues and ask if owners need help. If the pet is “weak and wobbly,” determine how you can help the pet and owner into the clinic and make them comfortable in the waiting room. Ask the pet owner to call or text when they arrive, so your team can assist. Also ask them to bring a favorite toy or blanket from home. “That will make an anxious dog happier,” Gardner says.

Reserve parking. Provide special parking for seniors and geriatrics close to the entrance and put up a “reserved” sign.

Use a ramp. Is the curb too high? A 4-inch curb could be a struggle for a dog with lymphoma, arthritis or other mobility issues. An anti-slip, polyethylene footway ramp can make it easier for them to navigate a step up.

Consider non-slip floors. “Think about your clinic,” says Gardner. “What do the floors look like? If you’re nauseous or not feeling good or can’t walk well, how would you feel on that floor?” Non-slip tile is ideal, but she suggests using temporary solutions such as yoga mats, booties or a quick spray on the bottom of the pet’s paws to keep them from slipping. (See “What to Buy” below.)

Keep pets warm. “This is really important for these fragile guys,” says Gardner, noting that the ability to thermoregulate changes as you get older and geriatric pets don’t have as much fat and muscle. “They’re usually cold,” she says. “Make sure they have warm bedding and a warm environment.”

Comfort is key. That includes keeping the noise level down for geriatric pets that are recovering in cages, and having special visiting hours for their owners. Sometimes, small changes can help. For example, put rubber stoppers on your cabinet doors so they don’t slam loudly when they close. “Remember that these guys are fragile,” says Gardner. “Treat them like little eggs that need TLC.”

Marketing to Caregivers

The best ways to get started marketing to caregivers of geriatric pets are to create a geriatric package and to carefully position aging pet content on your website, social media and e-newsletters. Dedicate 30% of everything you write to geriatrics, advises Gardner. And don’t post information about senior/ geriatric pets together with information about end-of-life care. Instead, keep it upbeat and appeal to pet owners who are not considering end-of-life care yet. “‘Supporting your aging pet’—what a wonderful phrase,” says Gardner.

What to Buy

Anti-slip Sprays

Footway Ramp