Despite the well-recorded wellbeing benefits for residents with pets in aged care homes, very few facilities allow it – according to a survey.
The poll – conducted by national animal welfare charity Companion Animal Network Australia – shows 86 per cent of older adults experience improved mental and physical health with pets in aged care settings. Yet only 18 per cent of aged care facilities consider allowing residents to keep their pet.
“While we’ve always recognised the benefits of owning a pet, our survey shows aged care providers have been slow to understand the enduring value of the human-animal bond for older people,” said CANA CEO Trish Ennis.
It’s long been proven that owning a pet provides companionship, reduces stress and encourages social interaction. This is particularly true for older adults who face isolation and loneliness.
Through its Pet Friendly Aged Care Division, CANA works to preserve the bond between people and their pets by keeping them together for as long as possible.
“There’s often a catastrophic emotional harm caused when older people are forced to give up their pets upon moving into an aged care home, and resulting in their much-loved animals being surrendered to shelters across the country,” said Ms Ennis.
Many people are putting their lives on the line by refusing to move into aged care because the facility won’t accept pets said Ms Ennis. “If people were allowed to keep their pets, aged care take-up by older people will increase and the number of pets being surrendered to animal shelters will decrease.”
According to CANA’s Status of pets in aged care survey – which is based on the responses of 1,130 participants, including older adults, aged care staff and the broader public – 68 per cent of people think aged care residents should be able to own a pet.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of people believe the main barriers to pet ownership in aged care homes is a lack of education among providers. “Education and knowledge about the benefits of pet ownership and accommodating pets are the key factors to allaying fears and opening up opportunities,” said Ms Ennis.
Support needed for home care recipients
CANA’s survey also shows an urgent need to support pet ownership for older Australians who choose to live independently.
While 40 per cent of people receiving a government-funded Home Care Package live with a pet, only 9 per cent receive support to help care for their companion animal – dog walking, for example, or transport for pets who need a vet.
“The [Commonwealth Home Support Program] and HCP can be extended to determine and secure the necessary assistance for a person to live independently with their pet by ensuring services are offered to support pet health and wellbeing,” said Ms Ennis.
“Increasing pet-friendly in-home aged care support will also help prevent animals being euthanised or surrendered to shelters and maximise the physical and emotional health of animal-loving older people.”
Furthermore, being open to pets also makes good financial sense for aged care providers, added Ms Ennis. “The inclusion of pets is a great business model as aged care facilities and home care companies that include pets are in greater need and their clients and communities are happier and healthier.”
CANA’s Pet Friendly Aged Care hub has free resources – including pet-related policies, guidelines and documents – for aged care providers, support agencies and organisations to manage and care for pets in aged care settings.
“As our population ages, solutions to maintaining a high-quality of life include finding ways to help ageing people retain their pets,” said Ms Ennis.