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Pets in aged care – do's and don’ts

What happens to our cats, dogs, fish and birds when we can no longer live at home? Here’s what you need to know.

Counting your chickens

The hit show at one Brisbane aged care home recently wasn’t on television, it was real life drama with a happy ending.

Residents and staff at the TriCare home were hooked looking on as 12 chicken eggs hatched into adorable chicks.

The home had teamed up with Henny Penny Hatching, which provides the eggs and support to schools, residential homes, and other community groups.

“Instead of watching the television, the residents have been locked into what’s going on in the brooding pen,” a spokespersn said.

“First comes a ‘peck hole’, then a beak poking through, before a tiny chick gradually emerges and kicks itself free from the shell.”

Once hatched, the chicks are transferred into a separate cage. While the two-week program certainly provides entertainment, it also invokes a sense of nurturing, rekindling fond memories for many residents.

It’s estimated that only 18% of aged care homes cater to residents who want to keep their cat, dog or other small animal.

So, despite your enthusiasm for bringing your furry friend with you, it very much depends on whether the home you choose agrees and is pet-friendly.

Alternatively, you may have to give your pet to a family member or friend, or even put them up for adoption.

However, if you are unable to bring your pet into an aged-care facility, you may still be able to engage with animals through pet therapy.

Caring for a pet offers companionship and unconditional love, and research suggests that animals may have the ability to boost our health and general wellbeing, especially in the elderly.

Pet therapy also delays the process of ageing through the increase of physical exercise, socialisation, and improvement in mental function.

Pets can improve the quality of life, reduce tension, fatigue, and confusion, while also encouraging positive emotions and attitudes.

They can also help improve the sense of loss many former pet owners feel after moving into aged care. 

Is the home pet-friendly?

Before deciding on an aged care home, make sure you know the policies and guidelines. Do they allow pets to stay permanently or only to visit?

In homes that are pet-friendly, you will solely be responsible for caring for your pet. Family and friends may help but the staff are there to focus on your needs, not your pet’s.

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you would be in a position to care for your pet while in aged care:

  • Who is responsible for caring for the pet each day, including feeding, exercise, grooming, and medication?

  • What would happen if you became sick or could no longer care for the pet?

  • Who will clean up, including poo and cat litter?

  • How will your pet cope in a new environment?

  • Will your pet make noise that affects other residents at night?

  • Does the pet feel stressed or anxious around strangers?

  • Are there any behavioural issues to be concerned about?

Homes may have different rules for assistance dogs and companion animals that provide support for the blind.

Some homes may allow small, low-maintenance animals such as birds, fish, hamsters or turtles, while others may also include cats and dogs, depending on size, breed, behaviour, vaccination status, and flea and worm treatment.

If your pet is accepted, you should have a plan in place for when you are no longer able to care for them.

Alternative pet therapy

You could leave the pet with family and friends who can bring the animal to the home regularly, depending on the home’s animal visiting policies.

This way you can care for own needs and personal care without the additional challenges of cleaning up or entertaining an animal that still requires a lot of attention.

Even if the home won’t allow you to have a pet on the premises, some homes have “communal” pets – small animals or fish that are cared for by the residents with staff assistance.

Further reading: Companion Animal Network, Henny Penny Hatching, Aged Care Guide

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