In a nod to the ever-growing popularity of pets and their benefits to senior health and wellness, many senior living communities nationwide have adopted pet-friendly policies to accommodate seniors and their companions. Pet-friendly assisted living and other senior housing communities provide seniors the care and assistance they need, along with the joy of aging alongside their beloved companions. Learn about common pet policies and services in senior living, plus the best questions to ask communities about pets, according to Annmarie Streff, certified dog trainer and Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom.
One of the biggest misconceptions about assisted living communities is that pets aren’t welcome, says Streff. In reality, the majority of senior communities allow pets, and this includes nursing homes and independent living.
However, it’s common for communities to have rules regarding pet ownership to ensure the safety and wellness of residents and staff:
When touring or researching communities, ask the following questions to understand pet guidelines:
Our Senior Living Advisors can help you find assisted living options in your area that will embrace your elderly parent — and their furry companion. In fact, about 64% — a total of 8,217 — of A Place for Mom’s partner communities accept either dogs or cats. Not only will our advisors get you in contact with pet-friendly assisted living communities, but they can also tell you which communities provide pet care, which communities offer pet-friendly programming and activities, and more.
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“Communities have different levels of involvement when it comes to pets and their care,” says Streff.
While some assist with caring for residents’ pets, others may call family members if the resident needs additional pet care or if the pet becomes ill.
Some communities provide personalized pet care, typically for an extra fee. Senior living staff may schedule a time to meet the pet, learn about their needs as well as the owner’s, and develop a care plan. This can include a seasonal plan to assist seniors in bad or snowy weather.
Pet-friendly senior living communities that don’t offer pet care may work with outside vendors to facilitate certain services, including the following:
Keep in mind that not all communities offer assistance with pet care for their residents. During your search, check with the community director to make sure they provide the assistance your loved one and their pet may need.
Many communities enlist the services of pet therapists who bring animals to communities to interact with residents. Pet therapy offers residents in senior living the best of both worlds: it gives them the opportunity to see and play with pets — typically dogs — without the long-term responsibility of providing care. Plus, studies show that even just 15 minutes with an animal can reduce stress and increase serotonin levels.
Benefits of pet therapy for seniors include the following:
Often a community activities director plans the visits with a pet therapist in advance, then adds them to the community calendar so all residents can participate.
“Residents can give the dogs treats, love on them, and watch them do tricks,” says Streff, who is also the owner of Canine Curriculum, a pet therapy business that works with seniors in assisted living. “I’ve seen great progress with non-communicative residents. Their demeanor changes immediately when they start petting the dog.”
In addition to pet therapy, many communities, like Sunrise Senior Living in Dublin, Ohio, have a “resident” cat or dog that provides companionship and joy to seniors.
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Before your mom or dad makes the transition to assisted living with dogs, cats, and other pets, Streff recommends planning ahead and asking yourself the following questions.
Does the pet have a history of biting or jumping on people? Be mindful that an aggressive or loud pet may lead to complaints, fines, or eviction.
For this reason — with dogs in particular — Streff recommends obtaining a training certification called Canine Good Citizen (CGC).
“The dog is tested by a certified professional. The test shows that the dog can behave well in public and has good manners. It can be good leverage when looking at communities.”
It’s important to plan for the future, says Streff. Be realistic about the responsibility of caring for a pet, and have a plan in case your parent can no longer properly care for their pet.
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A Place for Mom. (2022). A Place for Mom proprietary data.
Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., and Kotrschal, K. (July 9, 2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology.
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