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Let more people keep their pets in aged care: expert

A researcher at the University of South Australia has called for more aged care homes to allow their residents to keep pets.

Dr Janette Young, a lecturer in health sciences, made a formal submission to the aged care royal commission, calling on more homes to be accepting of animals in a country where one in two over 65s keep pets.

Young pointed to the many health benefits of having a pet and said that for people in aged care pets can provide companionship, social interaction and a sense of purpose that may otherwise be lacking.

“While 64 per cent of Australian households have a pet, a 2018 Animal Welfare League report found that only 18 per cent of residential aged care facilities allowed residents to live with a pet,” Young said. “This is despite all the evidence showing how important the human-animal bond is to people, perhaps even more so as they age.”

Many aged care facilities provide pet therapy or have robotic therapy animals, but Young said this ignores the bond that occurs between an owner and their pet.

“There’s growing global evidence of the negative health impacts of loneliness, including a shorter life span. Pets can help fill this void – often more so than trying to create human social support networks, which can be forced.

“From an economic perspective, there are also potential health savings in allowing pets in aged care settings. Happier residents cut both pharmaceutical costs and staff time (in managing poor behaviour). In turn, these savings could be used to fund animal carers.”

Young also believes that being able to keep pets can ease the transition into aged care for an older person.

“Indeed, older pet owners can be forced to either relinquish their pets to family members, animal welfare bodies or euthanise them in the event of entering aged care.

“It is distressing enough having to leave their home and move into aged care but leaving a pet behind – or ending its life due to circumstances beyond their control – only magnifies this stress,” Young said.

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  1. It is sad to leave your home and your pets, but the loneliness suffered by those at home alone will be alleviated to a large degree by the community of people in residential care. We have had numerous pets allowed in our facility from time to time and it has always ended up in tears mainly because the separation comes later, where the animal is stressed, tripped someone , or has bitten someone and has to be rehoused. Residents cannot look after their pets in most cases after a while and the burden then falls on the staff, and residents have even died and the families do not want to take the pet home with them. This is not a new idea, but sadly an impractical one that often causes more heartache for the resident in the long run. We do have visiting pets though now, which the residents love.

  2. Quite agree. A lot more discussion on assisting persons to have a pet – or to bring their pet in – is needed for residential aged care and retirement living.

  3. The antidote to loneliness is loving companionship and this can be achieved and is being achieved with the inclusion of companion animals living in residential care homes.

    Many of the issues noted in other responses relates to the ageing of said animal and some changes in their behaviour. These can be addressed through discussions at the front end of a person moving in to their new home.

    If we are prepared to care for an older person when they move into this home, then caring for their companion animal is also part of the contract.

    We know through feedback from our Eden communities that companion animals also provide care to staff, volunteers and other families. They are an essential component of any human habitat. Pet therapy has a place but shouldn’t be the only option.

    The Australian Animal Welfare League has also been able to demonstrate the power and benefits of companion animals living in residential care environments. The new Aged Care Standards will be asking organizations to think more clearly about how they can support their community through choice and autonomy in decision making.