Critter Corner: Would a Pet be Beneficial for my Mom with Alzheimer’s?


Dear Angel,

My mom has Alzheimer’s and I am thinking about bringing a cat into the house to help calm her down when she gets agitated. Is pet therapy effective for those with Alzheimer’s and do you think it’s a good idea for someone like her to have a pet like you?


Kat Formamma

According to the Alzheimer’s Associationpet therapy dates back to the 1860s, though the positive impact of animals on Alzheimer’s patients wasn’t studied in earnest until the 1980s.

Due to the anxiety that social situations can cause those with Alzheimer’s, they often avoid social situations altogether, including interacting with family and loved ones. Research shows that people with dementia recognize pets as friendly and non-threatening. When they have a pet with them, studies show they display more interactive behaviors. Check out this video which elaborates on the positive effects therapy animals can have on those with Alzheimer’s.

In addition to stimulating a social response, Alzheimer’s patients may benefit from the presence of therapy animals because of:

  • Reduced agitation. Agitation behaviors, including verbal or physical outbursts, general emotional distress, restlessness, pacing, shredding (paper or tissues) that are common among later stage dementia patients, are reduced in the presence of a pet.
  • Physical activity. People dealing with Alzheimer’s can lose motivation to maintain physical activity. Depending on a patient’s mobility, he or she may be able to brush the animal, toss a ball, or even go for a short walk.
  • Lower blood pressure. Spending time with an animal has even been correlated to lower blood pressure and increased odds of survival after a heart attack.
  • Improved eating and personal hygiene. Those with Alzheimer’s sometimes neglect necessary daily activities such as eating or basic personal hygiene. Alzheimer’s patients have been shown to eat more and pay closer attention to basic hygiene following a pet’s visit.
  • Pleasure. Some patients simply enjoy the presence of the pet and its human companion, as well as the tricks that some therapy animals can do.
  • Increased socialization. Many individuals with Alzheimer’s, who respond to little or nothing else in their environment, will respond to the non-threatening presence of a gentle therapy animal. An animal provides a natural and easy conversation topic for dementia patients, who often feel a great deal of strain from being put into social situations.

Although therapy animals for Alzheimer’s patients are a recently emerging therapeutic treatment, there are certifications and registrations that exist to uphold a high standard for these animals. Visit Pet Partners and Love On A Leash for more details about training and certification programs.

It is important to note that it takes a very special kind of animal to be used for therapy. It is crucial that the animal is of pleasant and suitable temperament. Therapy animals must be able to sit, stay, and resist distractions such as other animals or attractive smells. The animals must be bathed and groomed regularly, as the individuals they are interacting with on a daily basis are likely susceptible to disease and infection.

Hope this helps!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.