The Benefits of Pet Therapy in Nursing Homes

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A Brief History

Even today, animals still make people happy. They love unconditionally and provide lots of comfort to their owners. And their amazingness does not stop there. Researchers have found that for the elderly suffering from dementia and depression, their symptoms immediately decline after a brief interaction with a therapy animal. Pair this with the fact that pet owners are proven to be healthier and less stressed than non-pet owners and we begin to see how beneficial it is for nursing homes to employ therapy animals.

Unfortunately, it has been proven that a lack of high-quality activities and care that enable residents to work on their movement, memory and thought, it is often the case that their health will begin to rapidly deteriorate. If you are not confident that our loved one’s home meeting those needs, then this may constitute abuse. (Click here to read more about nursing home neglect).

Here are some simple tips if you are involved with planning pet therapy for a nursing home.

Digging Deeper

Animal lovers only

Not everyone loves animals, and you have to bear this in mind. When arranging a therapy animal visit, make sure you speak to every resident. If they have owned pets or make it clear that they like animals, put them into one group. For those that do not like animals, put them into another group. Make sure that when the therapy animals come in, the two groups are segregated.

When searching for a therapy dog, it does not have to be an animal trained to be a therapy dog. Lots of nursing homes use family pets of current residents. If you are considering doing this, make sure that you do a home visit to check the animal’s temperament and make sure that the current owner is close by during the visit.


In a recent study that took place over a range of nursing homes, research shows that pet therapy may actually delay the aging process. By encouraging physical exercise and socialization, the research showed a big increase in mental function during and for some time after the pet therapy sessions.

Live in pets

Lots of nursing homes across the country have introduced live-in pets. With all our research, we cannot find one case where the effects of doing so were not immensely beneficial to everybody. Here are some tips we have accumulated from these homes.

  • Inside pets work much better than outside pets.
  • Set up a roster with at least 2 of the current on-duty staff members taking responsibility for the animals, this includes taking them out to go to the toilet and making sure they are in sight at all times.
  • Seek volunteers to help with the animals, dog walkers, and groomers, especially.
  • Think about investing in a good training program; well behaved dogs make everybody’s life easier.

Seeing the smile on people’s faces when they interact with a therapy animal is truly heart-warming; we are extremely happy to see that this trend is becoming much more common. Hopefully, after reading this article, you too, are considering the benefits of introducing pet therapy into your nursing home.

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever used pet therapy at a nursing home?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Byrne, John.  PET THERAPY: History, Evolution, And Benefits For Humans And Animals.  Independently published, 2019.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Valérie Pilard of a patient in therapy with a dog, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


About Author

Abdul Alhazred

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland