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The role of pet therapy in care homes

Not so long ago, it would have been frowned upon to have an animal in a care home. Pets were not thought to be something you’d want in an environment caring for older people. However, times are changing, and today pet therapy is becoming an integral part of activities within many care homes around the UK.

The benefits of pet therapy

There has been much research on the benefits of interacting with animals of all shapes and sizes, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. While animal encounters are not for everyone, and therefore should be an optional activity, in our own experience we have found most residents are delighted to participate, and the benefits to be many and varied. For example:

  • Mental stimulation: Pets provide valuable interaction, enjoyment and entertainment.
  • Acceptance and companionship: Pets accept people unconditionally, a characteristic which can be soothing and heart-warming for residents.
  • Boosted self-esteem: People in residential care homes can often lament their perceived loss of freedom and responsibility; a pet can bring a new sense of focus and purpose to their lives.
  • Change of focus: Some residents can become overly focussed on themselves and their conditions, so having something to take their mind off their ailments gives them a new talking point.
  • Relaxation and better sleep: In trials, pet interactions have been shown to increase sleep duration and to reduce scores on the Geriatric Depression Scale, demonstrating how pet visits can benefit mental health too.
  • Reduced loneliness: Many older residents can begin to lose touch with their family and friends. Pet therapy can go some way towards providing the affection and companionship that they crave.
  • Happiness boost: Research has shown that just a few minutes of petting an animal can raise the levels of happiness hormones such as endorphins, making the person feel better overall.

Here at Westgate Healthcare, we recognise the wonderful benefits that pet therapy can have in our care homes and have led a number of initiatives to bring furry comfort to a wide number of our residents.

Pet therapy in action

At our Byron House care home, we welcomed a volunteer from the ‘Pets as Therapy’ organisation, who brought a wonderful dog called Milo to meet our residents. Milo, a two-year-old Labradoodle, is gentle and kind with our residents, and enjoyed receiving pets, cuddles and treats from them. He seemed to sense what people were feeling, responding with sympathy to those in pain or unwell. Milo is now a regular visitor to the home, coming once a week to visit our residents.

It’s not just your common or garden pets who can bring happiness to our residents either. Over at Hampden Hall, we welcomed a visit from the team at Wild Science, who brought an array of interesting creepy crawlies to meet our community. From a Royal Python to a Guinea pig, their wonderful animals even visited our bedbound residents so that everyone could enjoy the experience. Spirits were lifted, and we can’t wait until they can come back again!

Animal therapy has so many benefits for everyone involved, and we’re excited to plan more furry interactions throughout the year.

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