University of South Australia researchers have developed a tool to help aged care homes assess whether a resident’s pet can live with them in the facility.
Owners and their pets share a unique connection. This is especially so as people age. But this connection is often broken when a pet owner goes to live in a residential aged care home, said Dr Janette Young, pet researcher at UniSA.
“That means that they’re losing that powerful bond – a bond that can be lifesaving for them,” Dr Young told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Preserving that bond prompted Dr Young and her research team – which included academics, vets, and health and consumer representatives – to develop the Companion Animal Multi-Species Risk Management Tool to assess whether a resident’s pet could be easily integrated into an aged care environment. “The purpose of it is to help people make informed decisions about whether or not someone will be able to bring their pet safely into a communal setting,” she said.
Each animal has its own risk ratio. A dog or a cat will have different risks, for example, than a goldfish or a stick insect. “We assess the risks across dogs, cats, birds, fish and small mammals. [The tool] identifies the risks that relate to that animal,” Dr Young said. There are three categories of risks explained Dr Young: “Human to animal, animal to human, and animal to animal.”
Risk levels are rated high to low and take in a number of considerations. These include the risk of allergies, falls, bites and scratches, transmission of diseases and animal stress. It’s important, said Dr Young, that the pet has a chilled temperament. “I’ve got a little dog and he’s a very anxious number,” she said. “I don’t think he would do well if I was going to go into a nursing home – he would get too stressed.”
And, of course, it’s not always going to be appropriate for the pet to be allowed to live in an aged care facility. An aardvark maybe; an alpaca, no.
The resident will also need to be able to look after their animal. Meaning it will need to be regularly fed, groomed and exercised.
According to the Animal Welfare League, while 64 per cent of Australian households own a pet, only 18 per cent of Australia’s aged care facilities allow residents to live with their furry, feathery, or scaly friends.
Uncertainty over who will look after their pets when they go to live in an aged care home forces some owners to abandon their animals. “The poor buggers become homeless or even get put down because their owner goes into an aged care facility,” said Dr Young. “Then the poor person is grief stricken because their best friend isn’t with them – it’s quite horrible.”
Dr Young hopes the risk management tool will lead to more residential care homes allowing pets to live with their owners. “I would hope that in time it just becomes routine policy. That this [tool] is part of the pathway and the process of assessing people before they come into care,” she said. “That [residents] are asked ‘Do you have a pet? Would you like your pet to come with you?’ And if they say ‘Yes’, then you work through that as a possibility.”
Although developed in Australia, the tool was funded by the Society for Companion Animal Studies in the UK and is intended for use worldwide.
“It’s about maintaining human-animal relations when and where possible,” said Dr Young.