Pets are often seen as potential causes of injury, eg trips, bites and scratches, although neither the Rowntree study or the SCAS/PFMA study received any reports of such injuries in facilities that permitted personal pets, communal pets, or visiting pets. This is not to say, however, that they couldn’t occur. When drawing up a pet policy it would be sensible to include information on the correct leashing of dogs in communal areas, and restricted access for pets on stairways and corridors unless supervised.
Control of internal/external parasites can be achieved through preventative measures including regular worming and flea/tick treatments as advised by a vet. It need not be difficult, time-consuming or expensive. Free, comprehensive pet health information for dogs, cats and small pets can be found on the Blue Cross website
Other health concerns include allergies to pet dander, e.g. for sufferers of asthma and allergic rhinitis. Whilst care must be taken to safeguard asthma sufferers from exposure to dander in such quantities as to cause reactions, it is nevertheless possible to successfully manage allergies.
Communal or visiting pets may be enjoyed and the way in which animals are included in your setting will require great consideration. The suitability of the environment and the needs and capabilities of your staff residents being the most important. For some individuals having contact with a communal pet does not quite compensate for the one-to-one relationship that comes with a personal pet. It also offers some unigue benefits: a personal pet has a special bond with its owner; it is often the repository for memories of a deceased spouse, family ties, and a previous lifestyle. If an older person is able to take their pet with them into a care home, it can greatly ease the shock of relocation, providing a much-needed sense of reassurance and homeliness.
Any pet under consideration for entry to a care facility with its owner should be assessed for health and temperament. This should involve consultations with vets and possibly animal behaviourists, to ensure that any pet entering a care facility is of sound temperament and has no unmanageable health problems.
In practice, this is rarely a problem. Many older people have older pets, accustomed to living with older people, and who are unlikely to present behavioural problems. As well as questioning potential residents about their pet’s temperament towards other people and animals, it’s a good idea to agree a ‘trial period’. On arrival, the new pet should be kept in the owner’s room to settle in, before introducing it to other resident pets.
The owner should be responsible for the care of their pet. However, it should be recognised that support form care staff may be required. Dates of worming, flea treatments, vaccinations and health checks should e recorded to ensure these are carried out at the appropriate times. Staff should also support owners in the care of the pet, where necessary, in feeding and exercise routines.
It is recommended that prior to entry, the owner states their wishes and outlines what provision will be made for their pet should they (the owner) become unable to care for it. In practice, many pets in care facilities are ‘adopted’ by another person in the same care facility who has helped care for the pet. In other instances, the care of the pet is absorbed by the home/care facility since pets are often a source of pleasure for other residents.
To our knowledge, this has never been an issue for settings that welcome pets and they continue to encourage current and prospective residents to take up the option. Approximately a quarter of all older people own a pet and not all will wish to take their pet into care with them preferring to them to be adopted by friends or family.