Critter Corner: Should a Loved One with a Dementia Diagnosis Have a Pet?

Dear Hayek,

My grandmother Ruth has a small black mixed-breed pup named Angus. She is very fond of Angus and takes him everywhere. Ruth was diagnosed with dementia a couple of years ago. She still takes good care of Angus, but what happens when it becomes more severe and she forgets to walk him or feed him? We wouldn’t dream of taking Angus away. She is so attached to that pup and he makes her happy and calm. What do you suggest we do?

Poppy Love

Dear Poppy,

Pets, such as dogs, cats, and bunnies, by their very nature are non-judgmental, which makes them perfect companions for people affected by dementia. They won’t question behavior or get frustrated with people, and they provide a fantastic source of social support and unconditional love.

The role of pets in dementia care can be beneficial if managed in the right way. Here are some things to take into consideration:

After a Dementia Diagnosis

If your loved one was diagnosed with dementia and has a pet, many of us assume that the person needs to give up the animal as they won’t be able to care for it. Luckily, this isn’t necessarily the case.

It’s important to judge the situation based on the person and the pet. If their diagnosis has come late into the dementia journey and their symptoms are more advanced, the responsibility of a pet may be too much for them. However, if it’s still early on, they will probably be able to continue as normal.

If the pet is energetic and high-maintenance, it could be challenging for the person with dementia and you may need to hire a service to help with the pet or perhaps a local family member can help with the pet’s care. However, if it’s a well-loved cat or calm dog that is low-maintenance and doesn’t require much more than plenty of love and cuddles, then it could be more helpful to keep the pet rather than cause the trauma of removing the pet from them.

Benefits of Having a Pet for Someone with Dementia

There is increasing amounts of research showing that interaction with pets can be extremely beneficial for people with dementia. These are some of the reasons why:

  • Sensory stimulation: Interacting, stroking, chatting – these are all useful experiences that can help to keep someone with dementia engaged and happy.
  • Reduced agitation: People recognize pets as being friendly and non-threatening, and this can help to reduce agitation and increase pleasure.
  • Health benefits: Pets can increase activity levels in people and encourage them to get outdoors if the pet needs regular walks. Pets have been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase the odds of survival after a heart attack, and even encourage appetite in people.
  • Increased socialization: Pets provide a topic for conversation. Your loved one can socialize with other pet owners, or even talk to the pet to help protect against loneliness.
    If your loved one has a pet that he or she is attached to, the key is working the care of the pet into the daily activities of someone with dementia and ensuring that they have constant signs and reminders for walks and feed times, and help if needed.

Pet-friendly care homes

As people are beginning to appreciate the benefits of animals in dementia care, many care homes are becoming pet friendly. This could mean that your loved one can bring his or her pet along, or perhaps that the facility allows regular visits from the pet. It’s best to check the individual policies of each care home to see what they will allow.

Planning for your pet

Do you have a loving pet who is a part of your family? Then, you should certainly consider a pet trust. A pet trust is legal instrument that you can create to ensure that your pet receives proper care after you die or in the event of your disability. Learn more about pet trusts here.

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.

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