need to be knowledgeable on the physical
and behavioral symptoms of these conditions or determine the ones you will specialize in providing care for.
Establish a culture of care within your
Make it a conscious decision to provide
specific, quality and safe care for these
pets. Build it into your culture and operational processes. Decide what level of
care you can provide and, more important,
what you’re qualified to provide. Clearly
define areas where you recommend pets
be cared for by their veterinarian or another specialty service provider. Create a solid
working relationship with a veterinarian
or veterinarian hospital in your community, as you will need their assistance with
this pet population from time to time.
Establish operational processes and pro-
cedures to ensure consistent, safe and
Have an administrative process that asks
for physical and medical updates at each
visit. A pet’s health might have changed.
Without knowledge of the new condition,
the pet’s specific care concerns cannot be
Are there any physical modifications
to your environment or equipment needed to prepare for the care of these special
needs pets? Considerations might include:
• An appropriate environment that is
calm, quieter and slower, with a focus on
• Specialized equipment and supplies
required to ensure pet safety and comfort.
A few examples to consider are nonskid
surfaces, thicker bedding, and safe edges
on equipment and elevated bedding in
boarding facilities or, for groomers, special days of the week or hours in the day
dedicated to grooming when it is quieter
and less stressful.
• It might take two staff members to
provide the service based on the situation.
For example, a physically handicapped
pet could require one person to hold and
secure it safely while a second staff member bathes or grooms it.
• Other best practices to consider in-
clude: using aromatherapy to aid in calm-
ing the pet, always using the same enclo-
sure, and using the same staff or groomer
to service the pet to build its comfort.
Insist on staff education and training.
Appropriate education and training of
staff members who provide care of geriatric and special-needs pets is essential.
Knowledge of the medical conditions that
are frequently experienced by the geriatric
pet and the symptoms to these conditions
is critical for the safety of the pet while it is
in your care. The good news is that there
are educational programs available within
When looking at educational options,
consider a variety of relevant topics, such
as recognizing stress, pain or other medical
symptoms and knowing how to respond
quickly and appropriately, or knowing
how to manage the controlled walk of a
dog recovering from ACL surgery.
Embrace the opportunities.
Having owned and operated a full-service
pet care facility for 15 years that provided
geriatric and special-needs care, I can say
that it is both a heartfelt opportunity to service this pet population as well as a profitable pet care niche greatly needed within
our professional pet care community.
A key business aspect is to plan the
staff time for the special care so services
are priced appropriately. However, to really excel in this niche, know that the rewards come from the trust and gratitude
of your human clients.
In my experience, we had customers
say things like: “I know they’re well cared
for with you, [and] if in their last days
something happens to them while I’m
gone, I’d rather it be with you and know
they were among those who I know love
and care for them.” For those pets recov-
ering from surgery, we frequently heard:
“I’d rather they recover in your care than
leave them home alone all day crated and
in pain with no one to love and care for
Should you decide to provide this level
of compassionate and skilled care for this
growing pet population, know that adjust-
ments to operations can be made in stages.
You can start with special programs for
your senior pets and add more challeng-
ing medical conditions later. You might
find staff members who love this specialty
and eagerly take advantage of the educa-
tional resources within the industry for
for The Dog Gurus as business
growth and development guru.
Biggs is also co-founder of the
Professional Animal Care Certification Council
(PACCC), the pet
care service industry’s only independent certifying body. She also served as COO for four
years for the International Boarding & Pet Services Association (IBPSA). She was the owner
and operator of Stay N Play Pet Ranch, which
she and her partner founded in 1998 and grew
to one of the most successful, full service, all
natural and holistic pet care facilities in the
country before selling it in 2013. Biggs, who is
also an industry speaker and consultant, is the
current president and a 10-year member of the
board of directors for PAWS Shelter and Humane Society, which serves the Central Texas
Charlotte Biggs will be speaking at
the Atlanta Pet Fair & Conference,
which is being held at the Georgia
International Convention Center from
Value of Add-on Services to Your Pet Care
Saturday, March 9
11: 30 am–12: 30 pm
Managing Geriatric and Special Needs
Pets in Boarding Facilities
Saturday, March 9
3 pm– 4 pm
Providing Quality Boarding Care
Sunday, March 10
8 am– 9 am