Paws for thought: Exploring pet therapy in dementia care

Written by Ranger Home Care
8 March 2024

For those with dementia in their lives, finding moments of contentment and calm is hugely important. Not only to the dementia sufferer but to their family, friends and carers as well.

There are plenty of effective and beneficial health treatments and therapies out there to help those with dementia, but one type of therapy in particular has been gaining popularity.

You might not realise it, but the key to unlocking these precious moments might just be our four-legged friends.

Let’s have a more detailed look at pet and animal therapy for dementia and how it’s making a difference in the lives of adults with dementia.

What exactly is pet therapy?

Also known as animal-assisted therapy, pet therapy has become a popular method of helping individuals living with dementia. For someone diagnosed with a form of dementia, carrying out simple daily tasks can be a huge challenge. 

Frustration, confusion and anger become familiar emotions to them and so it’s no wonder that many dementia sufferers end up with high blood pressure and stress-related symptoms on top of their diagnoses.

The simple presence of an animal can lead to significant health improvements, such as decreased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduced symptoms of PTSD and better cognitive function.

In short, it can bring those much-needed moments of calm to a distressed person.

Pet therapy for dementia can come in different forms. Let’s have a look at a few of them:

Professional pet therapy services

Many care homes arrange for pet services to visit their residents on a regular basis – mainly trained dogs. This allows pet lovers to spend time with a calm cuddly friend, maybe even take them for a short walk and play together. Above all else, it helps bring happiness to their day. It can inevitably stir up memories that can give people moments of temporary clarity as they tell stories about beloved family pets.

For those who are more able, there are organisations that offer pet therapy with horses as well. Professionally trained horses and their handlers spend time with individuals, making sure they are comfortable interacting with the horse, having the chance to groom, stroke and possibly even ride it, depending on the person’s health.

Borrow my doggy

This nationwide service enables those without pets to ‘borrow’ a dog from its owner and spend time with it. Its aim is to help people who don’t have space, finances, good health or time to have a pet themselves, but really want to have the joy that comes from spending time with dogs.

This service is popular with families of elderly people who are perhaps missing their own pets or need companionship, but can’t commit to having a pet themselves due to dementia or other ill health.  

Dementia and pet therapy like this is a relaxed way of bringing an animal into your life without feeling the burden 24/7. As a dementia sufferer will be unable to care for a dog constantly, this allows them to get so many of the benefits without any of the concern. Family members will be matched to a local dog owner and much like Winifred and little Orla the Daschund, knowing that their dog is brightening up an elderly person with dementia’s day.

Daily and live-in care

If you have daily carers or a live-in carer coming into your home to help you or a family member, they may also be able to help look after your pet. Many people newly diagnosed with dementia worry that they will have to give up their pet due to becoming forgetful and confused.

So the relief and delight they will feel, knowing their best friend can stay by their side is invaluable for their emotional health.

The benefits of pet therapy

As impressive as the health benefits are, the emotional effect is equally as beneficial. Animals hold a special place in people’s hearts, which is especially true of those living with dementia.  

Spending time with a pet brings a sense of companionship, unconditional love and a comforting, non-judgmental presence. This emotional and psychological support is invaluable, as it provides a unique form of therapy that medications and traditional treatments alone can’t replicate.

With their intuitive nature, animals seem to understand and connect in pet therapy dementia sessions in a way that is both profound and heart-warming, making them a valuable part of dementia care.

Let’s look at 6 benefits of pet therapy for those with dementia:

Improvement in mood

Pet therapy has been shown to significantly uplift the spirits of individuals with dementia. Just being around an animal can create feelings of happiness and reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.

A calming effect

The act of petting or cuddling an animal can release endorphins, reducing stress and creating a sense of peace and tranquillity.

Vicky, from Canine Assisted Living, an organisation dedicated to specialist canine support, explains that “animals can have a remarkably calming effect. Their presence is able to reduce agitation, depression and anxiety, which are common symptoms in dementia patients.”

Decreased risk of challenges

Playing with animals can help calm people with dementia who may feel upset, angry or tend to wander. Pets give them something happy to focus on, making life feel more manageable and often making things easier for their carers.

Improved nutrition

Pet therapy can indirectly improve nutrition in individuals with dementia. Being around animals makes them happier and more interested in food, which is really positive for those who often show little interest in eating.

Increased social interaction

Interacting with pets can help people with dementia talk more and feel less lonely. They make it easier for everyone to start conversations and connect with each other in care settings.

Increased physical activity

Animal therapy for dementia includes activities like walking, grooming or playing with the pet. These activities motivate people with dementia to move more, which is good for their health. Moving regularly helps keep their muscles and balance in shape, which will help their overall quality of life.

Experience pet therapy in your own home

Maintain that precious bond with your pet through live-in care with Ranger Home Care. If you or your loved one needs help with daily tasks and are worried about a pet, don’t worry – our carers can help.

At Ranger Home Care, we know everyone is different, so we create personalised care plans for each person. Our team of kind, skilled professionals is dedicated to providing the best care possible – have a look at the benefits of live-in care.

For more information on how we can support you and your loved one, please visit our website or contact us directly on 01252 850040.

Read some of our client stories

Steven’s story: Living with dementia

Steven’s story: Living with dementia

Steven’s a successful car dealer and entrepreneur developed dementia in his 60’s. This had a profound effect on his busy hectic life. His desire to remain at home and continue as much of his normal routine, including visiting the pub…

Ross’s story: Living with cerebral palsy

Ross’s story: Living with cerebral palsy

Living with cerebral palsy, Ross was unable to independently complete daily tasks before he had live-in care.

Live-in care enabled him to regain his independence without being limited by his physical constraints.

Evelyn’s story: Caring for someone with dementia

Evelyn’s story: Caring for someone with dementia

Living with dementia could have denied Evelyn of her many loves, but having a live in carer gives her the freedom to continue enjoying her interests, such as retaining her well-kept garden and staying with her dog.