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Dogs and Older People

The role of pets in the lives of the aged is particularly significant for those who live in a nursing home or in some situation of assisted care. Numerous studies show pets provide one of the few interventions capable of permanently lifting the atmosphere of hospices and nursing homes. 

Despite all this evidence, many nursing homes still do not allow pets, and fear of giving up their animal companion is a serious concern for many in the community. For older people still living in their own home, pet ownership has many benefits including social facilitation and companionship as well as increased activity levels.

Research indicates that people over the age of 65 are the least likely age group in the community to own a pet. Yet, in many ways they are the age group that has the most to gain from pet ownership. Better solutions are needed to ensure older people can enjoy the many benefits pets provide.

Pets & the Elderly – How do companion dogs help to improve the lives of older people? – a research summary prepared by Petcare Information and Advisory Service

Never fear – help is out there!

If you (or someone you know) are thinking of moving to a retirement village, independent living unit, hostel or nursing home and are worried about being parted from your pet, don’t despair: 

Ask if you can take your pet with you

Aged care operators are recognizing the benefits of pets, with some allowing owners to take their pets with them. There will be rules and some pets are not appropriate in some circumstances.

If you have more than one pet, you could ask if you can bring more than one. You may also want to ask whether you may get another pet if your current pet passes away. Useful information about aged care accommodation that allows pets can be found in DPS guides or see contacts below.

Tell them how important your pet is to you

When making enquiries, be ready to explain the benefits owning your pet has for you. Give accurate information about your pet(s) including type, size, age, behaviour, whether desexed (vet certification is probably required) and any vaccinations.

Consider options for care

If you have to move and are unable to take your pet with you, you do not have to euthanise your pet.

There are other options. Contact an animal shelter (RSPCA: 02 6287 8100) or a local rescue group (such as ARF: 0421 216 485). They may be able to assist with rehoming advice. Alternatively, check online to find out if your breed of dog has a special rescue group.

You are not alone

If you are likely to experience the loss of a pet, or have to part with one, your vet can discuss the issues with you before this happens. If required, Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support on 13 11 14.

These are useful contacts for aged care organisations that offer some pet-friendly options:

DPS Guide – Pets in Residential Aged Care

For many of us, pets are like family. They can offer companionship and unconditional love. But many older people entering an aged care home may have to leave their pet behind, and the loss of this companionship can have a serious effect on the older person’s wellbeing.

Are pets allowed in aged care?
Not all residential aged care homes allow pets, but continuing to have them included in residents’ lives after entering a home can be rewarding.
Allowing pets to visit an aged care home can give both staff and residents the chance to enjoy the benefits of a friendly pet without the responsibilities of ownership. However, some aged care homes also have ‘live-in’ pets, such as dogs, cats or birds.
Remember… before entering residential aged care, enquire about the home’s policy on pets….
Which aged care homes allow pets?
The DPS website features a comprehensive list of Residential Aged Care homes which welcome residents’ pets or house ‘live-in’ pets. You can access these by clicking on Residential Aged Care and selecting the type of care you require (ie Residential High or Low Care). Click on the Features category to the left of the screen and select Facility Pets to start browsing).