Pets can give people with dementia sentiments of unconditional love. But getting a new pet isn't a decision to be made lightly. Here we share some things to consider before seeking a pet for someone with dementia.
People with dementia can find caring for an animal a source of support and stress relief. A person living with dementia can also benefit from companionship and friendship by keeping a pet, and it may provide a sense of purpose.
But there may come a time when the pet's owner can no longer look after them. It's hard to know whether keeping a pet is the right choice.
How can a person with dementia benefit from having a pet?
There are some suggestions that animals can communicate better than humans with people with dementia. This is thought to be because animals rely more on body language than verbal communication.
Animal-assisted interventions can often improve self-esteem and confidence in people with dementia. It can also promote quality of life and encourage independence.
Visits from an animal can be an energetic experience or an exciting part of a person's day. Animals can be an excellent source of love and laughter.
Here are some things to consider before getting a pet for a person with dementia.
Some people with dementia, or those supporting them, may want to get a pet. Here are some important points to consider before seeking a new pet.
1. Does the person have the cognitive ability to decide whether they want a pet? To make this decision, they will need to understand the level of commitment involved.
2. Will the person be able to meet the animal's needs? Cats and dogs can live for many years and require daily care and attention. It's essential to consider the welfare of the animal. This includes feeding, exercise, going to the vet, cleaning up after the animal, and more.
3. Where will you get the pet? Keep in mind that some breeders, rescue centers, or pet stores may not be willing to sell a pet to a person with dementia. Sellers may be hesitant if they feel the person may not be able to look after the pet properly.
4. Have you considered the person with dementia's feelings before getting a pet? Not all people with dementia (and those supporting them) will want to interact with animals. Not everyone will enjoy it, either. Some people may be afraid of animals, have allergies or medical conditions that the presence of animals could aggravate. Individual and cultural differences in the acceptance of animals should be considered and assessed first.
5. Would the person benefit from semi-regular interactions with an animal? This could be presented instead of committing to pet ownership. Some people may find visits from a friend's or family member's pet a good compromise.
6. Have you considered purchasing a robotic pet or cuddly toy instead of a living animal? Many people with dementia benefit from comforting dolls or stuffed animals or interacting with lifelike mechanical animals. If a 'fake' pet brings the same calming effects as a real pet, perhaps that's an option to explore first. We recommend Joy for All companion pets.
What happens if a person with dementia can no longer care for their pet?
It is crucial for people with dementia, and those supporting them, to think about what might happen to their pet if they are no longer able to look after it. Animal welfare should always be considered and managed appropriately.
If the person with dementia is moving into a facility care setting, they may not be able to take their pet with them. It is good to speak to the administration about this.
There may be a family member or friend who is able and willing to take responsibility for the pet. If the person with dementia lives with their care partner, they may take on increased responsibility for the pet. However, it is important that they are happy and able to look after the animal.
Pets and facility care
Some care facilities allow interactions and activities involving carefully selected animals.
The animals and their owners, often volunteers, might make regular visits to residential care facilities. They will often bring breeds of animals with a calm or gentle disposition. This is often known as 'pet therapy'.
If a person with dementia previously owned a pet, these animal interactions could help with reminiscence. Visits from animals may help people with dementia recall memories and could become an activity for someone to look forward to.