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Animal Therapy In Care Homes: The Benefits Of Visits From Pets

George Griffiths

29 January 2021

Animal Therapy In Care Homes: The Benefits Of Visits From Pets

George Griffiths

29 January 2021

Animal therapy in care homes can bring a wealth of benefits for residents.

Anyone who’s had a pet will know how much joy and comfort animals can bring. In this article we’ll take a look at how animal therapy can have a positive impact on care home residents’ lives.

What is animal therapy?

Animal therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, is a way of providing comfort and companionship through interaction with animals, with the aim of improving mental, social, physical or emotional health.

In a care home or nursing home setting, this might involve animals visiting and interacting with residents, or the care home may have live-in pets.

Animal therapy can be particularly comforting for residents who previously had a pet of their own, providing reassurance and familiarity.

Dogs are one of the most popular choices as therapy animals - as any dog lover will tell you, they make great companions, offering unconditional affection and loyalty.

Other pets like cats, rabbits and guinea pigs make popular therapy animals, but more unusual animals can also be a great way to engage residents.

Specialist companies offer pet visits from all sorts of animals, including ponies, reptiles, donkeys, alpacas, goats, hedgehogs, ferrets, birds and more.

For care homes that decide to have live-in animals, ducks and chickens can be a good option as they provide an opportunity for residents to get involved in collecting eggs.

This can give residential care residents a sense of purpose and responsibility, and enables them to get outside in the mornings for some exercise and fresh air.

animal therapy in care homes

What are the benefits of pet therapy?

Animal therapy can improve quality of life in a number of ways. Visits from pets can be relaxing or exciting, and a source of joy and love.

Here are some of the benefits animal therapy can bring:

  • Improving mental health: Research has shown that petting an animal causes an automatic relaxation response. The simple act of stroking a pet promotes the release of oxytocin, serotonin and prolactin, which are all hormones that play a role in elevating mood.

    This calming effect can help to lower anxiety and reduce stress. A visit from an animal can be a happy distraction or an escape, providing entertainment, enjoyment and affection
  • Improving physical health: Studies have also suggested that interacting with animals can lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

    It can also decrease physical pain and in some cases reduce the amount of medication that people need
  • Bringing back happy memories: Animal therapy has been shown to increase mental stimulation, and can help with memory recall and temporal sequencing of events in people with dementia.

    Spending time with an animal can also help with reminiscence, unlocking fond memories of pets that residents had in the past. Happy memories triggered by a visit from a therapy animal can be a source of great joy
  • Tackling loneliness and isolation: Moving into a care home can be isolating for some people - even if they’re surrounded by other residents and care staff.

    Leaving behind familiar surroundings, and sometimes friends and family, can be a difficult and lonely experience.

    Animals offer benefits to help with this; spending time with a therapy animal can have a dramatic effect on loneliness, enabling residents to form a positive relationship and providing affection and companionship.

    Animals can make people feel accepted and loved unconditionally and non-judgmentally, which is something some residents may feel is lacking from human interactions
  • Increasing physical activity: Introducing therapy animals can be a great way to get residents moving.

    Taking a dog for a walk around the grounds or playing a game of tug-of-war or fetch can be a valuable opportunity to get some exercise and fresh air.

    For those who are less mobile, lifting a pet onto their lap, bending down to stroke them or helping to groom or feed them can all be beneficial sources of activity and movement.

    Increased physical activity can help to improve circulation, reduce inflammation and improve mobility and strength
  • Providing opportunities for social interaction: A visit from a therapy animal can promote social inclusion and interaction, encouraging residents to get involved with the group and promoting engagement with other residents, care staff and pet therapy volunteers

Things to consider when introducing animal therapy in care homes

If your care home is not in a position to take on live-in pets, a company or charity that offers animal therapy visits may be the best option.

For example, Pets as Therapy and Therapy Dogs Nationwide are both charities that offer visits from therapy dogs throughout the UK.

All the dogs these charities work with are temperament-tested and vaccinated, and accompanied by experienced volunteers.

You may be able to arrange regular visits from the same dog so your residents get to know them. A visit from a beloved therapy dog can often be the highlight of the week, and will give residents something to look forward to.

Another approach is to run animal workshops, where residents get the opportunity to meet a variety of different animals.

Being able to hold, stroke and pat animals with different textures, like scaly snakes and fluffy hamsters, can provide a wonderful sensory experience.

Remember that visiting animals may not be for everyone. Some people feel nervous or scared around animals or are allergic to pet fur.

It may be a good idea to ensure your initial participant group is made up of people who like animals or have previously had their own pets.

You may find that as time goes on, residents who previously felt uncomfortable around animals grow in confidence and start joining in.

Whichever option you choose, it’s important to prepare carefully and make sure you have appropriate policies and procedures in place.

With the right preparation, animal therapy in care homes can be a wonderful addition with profound positive effects for people of all ages.

uRoster’s Care Management Solution

Here at uRoster, we are developing a comprehensive care management system for domiciliary care providers, launching in 2022.

Our complete solution will support providers to stay connected with their employees and clients, while easily recording and sharing compliant and accurate care records.

If you’d like to know more, get in touch with us today - we’re always keen to chat.

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