Pet Ownership After a Dementia Diagnosis

Pets are proven to improve their owner’s overall wellbeing by reducing feelings of stress and loneliness. For those living with dementia, pets can be even more valuable. Studies have shown that pets can improve the health of those living with dementia while simultaneously providing them with companionship. We’ve previously written a blog about how pet therapy can benefit those living with dementia. This post will go into more detail about the factors a carer may have to consider if their loved one has received a dementia diagnosis, and wants to keep their pet by their side.

1. The Stage of Dementia

The stage of dementia is the first thing to consider. Someone who has just received a diagnosis and is in the early stages of the disease will generally be more capable of taking care of their pet than someone in a later stage. Many people living with dementia can continue to function well for months or years. As such, it’s important to analyse the individual situation and determine the person’s ability to care for their pet based on their current symptoms.

2. The Kind of Pet

Typically, the easier it is to take care of the pet, the more likely they will be able to stay at home with their owner for longer. For example, dogs, cats and hamsters or guinea pigs are relatively low maintenance and can provide love and companionship for an owner with dementia.

3. The Amount of Care Required

Similarly, it’s important to take into consideration the amount of work that is required to take care of the specific pet. For example, if an existing pet is easy to look after and doesn’t require too much attention, it is likely to be more beneficial that the person with dementia keeps the pet in their company rather than looking for somewhere to rehome the animal. Every situation is different, so observe the circumstances and evaluate how easy it would be for the person with dementia to provide for their pet, and themselves.

4. The Bond Between Owner and Pet

One of the most important questions to answer is whether or not the owner wants to keep their pet. There are definitely a number of benefits to having a pet, however, someone who has just received a dementia diagnosis may not want to have the added responsibility of caring for an animal. In some cases, pets can be a source of irritation for a person with dementia or cause them stress.

By taking into consideration all of the above factors, you will be able to advise your loved one on whether or not keeping their pet is a good idea. At all times, the most important thing is to ensure you are mindful of the wants and needs of both the owner and the pet.

Alternatives to Pet Ownership

If a person with dementia does not want to take care of a pet or becomes incapable of doing so, it may be necessary to ask a close friend or family member to take responsibility for the animal. Someone living with dementia may appreciate if their pet is looked after by someone they know, who can bring the pet back to them for visits. These visits can be as beneficial or even more beneficial than a person living with dementia having the responsibility of caring for a pet full time.

A visit from a pet may help a person living with dementia with anxiety and depression. Often, this visit will completely lift their mood and bring a spark of joy to their day. Seeing their previous pet can also trigger happy memories from the past.

The following are some helpful tips to remember when taking a pet to visit a person with dementia:

  • Ensure visits are planned in advance so that the person is expecting the pet. It is generally best to avoid surprises for people living with dementia, so if they are aware of the visit, the pet is more likely to get a warm welcome.
  • Try to plan visits in the morning or early afternoon, as people living with dementia are generally less tired at these times.
  • Ensure visits are kept to an appropriate length of time. The individual may want to spend a while with their pet, or alternatively, they may get tired or overwhelmed quickly. In case of the latter, a shorter visit is recommended. Remember that while you may want to make the most of the time the person has with their pet, you can always take the pet home and come back another day.

Deciding what to do with a pet can be difficult in the event that their owner receives a dementia diagnosis. Make sure you include the person in the decision and try to come to a solution that is best for everyone. If the person absolutely has to give up their existing pet, formal pet therapy is another alternative to consider looking into. The PAWS Pet Therapy website may be a good place to start. In addition, if you’re caring for someone with dementia, the Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.

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