Senior dog at vet

We’ve looked into how veterinary professionals and readers understand and use the terms "senior" and "geriatric" when referring to aging pets, but there’s more to the story than just semantics. Veterinary professionals report that they do use the terms, and we’re thrilled to find that most pet owners understand and are OK with them. Next, we wanted to find out if senior pet issues are communicated effectively by vets to pet owners.

We wanted to know two things. First, how well do veterinary professionals believe they’re communicating about those issues? And, second, do pet owners feel they’re receiving that information? To learn the answer, we surveyed 1,896 readers and 213 veterinary professionals (including veterinarians, technicians and office managers).

Expert Communication? Depends on Whom You Ask

Almost all veterinary professionals (99.7 percent) we surveyed said that they communicated with and/or educated their clients about older pet issues. About half indicated they used all methods available (verbal communication, emails, printed materials and senior wellness programs), while 39 percent said they relied on verbal communication. Almost 7 percent stated they used email and/or printed communications, and 1 percent cited other methods.

In most cases (96.7 percent), veterinary professionals said the communication and education takes place year-round based on the pet’s age, while 1 percent timed it around Senior Wellness Month in the fall, and the remainder indicated that they discuss it only when their clients ask.

Pet owners, however, may not be receiving that communication as well as veterinary professionals would hope: 19 percent of readers say there is no communication from their vets about their older pets. However, slightly more than 30 percent of readers indicated they received communication through a combination of all methods available, nearly 32 percent said that communication was verbal, close to 7 percent said they received email and printed communications, and almost 4 percent said their vets provided them with a wellness program geared toward older pets. The remaining respondents either were not sure or did not take their pets to the vet except in the case of an emergency.

How Helpful Are Senior Wellness Promotions and Education Efforts?

Since almost all responding veterinary professionals said they communicate about senior issues with their clients, it’s natural to wonder how helpful that communication is, especially in the form of senior wellness promotions and education efforts. Only about 5 percent of readers said those programs were not a benefit to their cats or dogs, while 10 percent had no opinion. Happily, that leaves 85 percent of readers indicating that they’re beneficial.

And how does it work the other way around? Veterinary professionals also see senior wellness promotions and education efforts as a benefit, with nearly 43 percent saying those initiatives benefit both patients and their practice, 16.5 percent indicating they benefit their patients more than their practice, and 1 percent saying they are more beneficial to their practice than their patients. However, despite the fact that so many veterinary professionals stated that they communicate about senior issues with their clients, almost 40 percent said their practice does not participate in any senior wellness promotions or programs.

What Older Pet Issues Do Vets Discuss?

The top 10 senior pet wellness issues veterinary professionals say they educate their clients about are:

Rank Conditions
1 Dental disease
2 Arthritis
3 Obesity
4 Renal failure
5 Thyroid problems
6 Heart disease
7 Vision problems
8 Vaccines
9 Behavior issues
10 Diabetes

Other issues included cancer, incontinence in female dogs, vestibular disease, parasite infections and constipation.

What Do Readers Think?

For a comparison, we provided readers with a list of health issues and asked them to choose not which conditions their vets talked about most in regard to older pets, but which conditions they thought were more likely to affect aging dogs and cats. Readers’ top 10 choices were:

Rank Dog Conditions Cat Conditions
1 Arthritis Kidney disease
2 Dental problems Dental problems
3 Vision problems Obesity
4 Cancer Urinary tract infections
5 Urinary incontinence Cancer
6 Knee problems Vision problems
7 Obesity Urinary incontinence
8 Stroke Diabetes
9 Kidney disease Behavior issues
10 Heart attacks Disease spread by contact with other cats

Other issues for dogs included diabetes, balance problems, heart murmurs, behavior issues, diarrhea, thyroid problems, disease spread by ticks, ear infections, disease spread by contact with other dogs, respiratory infections, constipation, urinary tract infections, parasite infections and vomiting.

Other conditions for cats were arthritis, respiratory infections, thyroid problems, stroke, vomiting, constipation, heart attacks, balance problems, diarrhea, heart murmurs, ear infections, parasite infections, disease spread by ticks and knee problems.