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National Pet Month: Companion and Healing Pets at Senior Living

Jeff Anderson
By Jeff AndersonMay 17, 2017

May is National Pet Month, so it’s a great time to look at the number of benefits healing pets have on their owners, especially for seniors. As known benefits increase, senior communities are becoming more pet friendly, letting residents enjoy the benefits of an animal companion through pet therapy provided by a certified therapy animal and handler.

Learn more about companion and healing pets at senior living in honor of National Pet Month.

Benefits of Keeping a Pet

Approximately 45 million American households have at least one cat and 57 million have at least one dog, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Another 20 million households have other kinds of pets. Collectively, APPA estimates that more than $69 billion will be spent on animal companions this year.

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Pets are reliable companions that have been found to have benefits for their owners’ health and well-being. This is especially true for senior loved ones, who are more motivated to stay active and socialize when owning a pet.

In addition to helping seniors express their nurturing side, caring for animals also helps seniors maintain a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Some benefits associated with pet ownership include:

  • Longer lifespan
  • Lower rates of heart disease
  • Lower systolic blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduced stress and improved mood

Pets Residing in Senior Living

Pets are changing the face of senior living and senior communities aren’t just allowing pets. They often roll out the red carpet. Our senior community amenity survey found that accepting pets is by far the most important amenity that a community can provide.

Senior living recognizes this consumer demand for pet-friendly accommodations as well as the benefits to their residents. The majority of today’s senior living providers allow residents to keep a cat or small to medium-sized dog. In some cases, residents may even have two pets or even a large dog. Some locations even have a dedicated pet coordinator who oversees pet care services such as grooming and litter box changes.

Pet Therapy at Senior Living

It’s not feasible for all seniors to keep pets and not all communities can allow residents to keep pets on a full-time basis. But, that doesn’t mean these seniors are unable to reap some of the rewards that come from animal companionship.

Pet therapy in senior living is becoming more common, even at communities that don’t accept pets, because it allows seniors who are unable to keep a pet to experience the positive emotions and other benefits that come with being with animal companions.

For instance, the Spring Hills Singing Woods assisted living and memory care community offers residents bunny therapy. The community’s executive director, Dierdre Middlestetter, told us that pet therapy with rabbits “immediately produces positive responses from residents, ranging from squeals of delight to calm relaxation.”

Finding the Right Therapy Pets

Pet therapy isn’t complicated. When seniors and an appropriate pet are introduced, the “magic” happens on its own. But, certification for pets and handlers helps assure senior communities that pets brought there are safe and appropriate for the environment.

We spoke with Nancy Mutzel, who, with her dog Roger, volunteers time at the Seattle VA Hospital, as well as the Gardens at Town Square in Bellevue, Washington.Therapy Dog Roger

Mutzel and Roger are certified through Pet Partners. Nancy explains that Roger is “a rescue dog I found through PetFinder.com. He is a Basset Hound mix and almost 9-years-old. After all of his training, he’s been an officially certified therapy dog for a year now.”

Mutzel explains that not any old dog can be a therapy dog. Fairly intensive testing and training is done to see if pet therapy candidates are ready. “They tested Roger’s temperament and how he would handle noise like carts and wheels, and even how he would handle linoleum floors as many dogs have an issue with them.”

Pets Putting Smiles on Seniors’ Faces

When Mutzel brings Roger to visit seniors, they generally set up shop in the lobby, which draws residents out of their apartments. Mutzel explained: “We like to sit in the lobby and have people come visit us which works out great because it also encourages people to get out of their rooms and get moving around.”

She observed that residents’ reactions to Roger vary — he seems to benefit each senior he is with differently.

“Some people love to come sit with us and share their own stories about their dog, both present and past. Others will just come sit near us with a book and not interact with us and are just comforted by the fact that an animal is near.”

She continues, saying, “Roger just has a knack for putting smiles on people’s faces and making people laugh, and he loves a good belly rub.”

Finding Pet Friendly Senior Living

If you or a loved one need assistance finding a pet friendly senior community in your area, A Place for Mom has a guide to pet friendly senior communities. Our Senior Living Advisors can help families find communities that accept pets and meet all their needs.

Contact us today for more information about pet friendly senior living.

Have you or a loved one had an experience with a pet in senior living? How did it affect you? Share your story in the comments below.

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