The Benefits of Pet Therapy in Nursing Homes

Pet therapy is a low-stimulation form of therapy for elders, especially those who live in nursing homes. There are many benefits to pet therapy, including increased self-esteem and increased mental and physical activity. As with other therapies, there are concerns to be taken into account. The main concern is often the responsibility that comes with owning a pet. This concern can be addressed through the type of pet therapy that is chosen. Visitation therapy, the most common, allows elders to visit with pets and experience the joys of having their company without the added responsibility of caring for them 24/7.

Animal-assisted therapy is less common but more appropriate for someone who needs a more intense type of therapy to help with rehabilitation. Ownership therapy is another version of pet therapy that patients can be part of: This requires a mental and physical evaluation of the patient because it requires the patient’s ability to responsibly provide around-the-clock care for their pet, just as they would were they living independently.

The Benefits

There are many benefits to introducing pet therapy as part of an elder’s routine. The residents of a nursing home have lived full, independent lives before coming to stay there, so having a caregiver take care of their every need can leave residents feeling out of touch with themselves and susceptible to low self-esteem. The responsibility that comes with caring for a pet, briefly or over the long term, can help boost a patient’s self-esteem again. More often than not, nursing home residents are lonely and are at risk of developing depression and/or anxiety. Being alone too often forces the residents to focus on their lack of companionship and leaves them worried about their health conditions and/or loved ones.

Introducing pets into a resident’s routine allows them to experience reduced loneliness and a shift toward a more positive focus. Pets require many things from their owners, from food to exercise, and these needs can give nursing home residents a reason to get up and increase their physical activity. Those who feel shy or self-conscious about their decreased ability to do some of life’s daily activities with the same ability they once had learn about acceptance because the love of their pets is unconditional. All of these things together can result in improved mental functioning for patients. The daily responsibility helps them find a positive purpose for the day, and the pets serve as tools to keep residents’ memories sharp.

Pet Preparation

The most important thing to remember is that while pets can be beneficial for some, their presence in a nursing home is not always welcomed by all, especially those with allergies to certain animals. Regardless of whether the pet is just visiting or will be moving into the facility, it’s important to get each patient’s permission along with that of their attending physician, management, daily caregivers, activities staff, and the patient’s family before moving forward. The next consideration that must be made is the physical and monetary responsibility that accompanies owning a pet.

For example, a plan must be made for feeding, grooming, exercise, and vet visits for the animal. If a realistic plan isn’t in place, the difficulties of caring for a pet will weigh on the residents and staff, counteracting any benefits. Part of having a doable animal care plan in place is matching a patient with a pet that has a temperament that fits that of the patient.

Most frequently, older dogs and indoor cats are popular choices because of their friendly but generally docile nature. Younger pets and outdoor cats can be an issue because of their increased energy and need to wander.

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