Are Pets allowed in Aged Care Facilities?

Fiona is often asked: Can I take my pet with me to an aged care environment?

This year, I started to think about the issue of growing old with your pet more from a personal experience as my mother is aging with the debilitating disease of Dementia. over the past year,  I noticed something different about the way my mother engages with my dog ‘EB’ – a 10 year-old Bull Terrier X.

My mother would talk to her more, follow her around more and sometimes harass her more to the point where EB would growl as a signal to back-off. It was interesting that my mother was taking more of an interest in EB.

From this experience, I pondered more deeply about growing old and how aged care settings integrate pets or not pets in their facilities.

Do they have adequate pet policies? How do they cater and manage for the long term needs of companion animals? 

What support services do they provide for pets and their guardians? What happens when the pet guardian can not longer care for the animal? Who has responsibility for the animals health, welfare and safety? What is the environment like for the pet?

You can clearly see that there are many issues associated with ‘Pet Friendly’ accommodation’. This prompted us to develop a Checklist for Aged Care Providers. The Checklist was developed by Fiona De Rosa (Urban Planner and Dog Behavioural Trainer) in collaboration with Dr Fiona Warton (Veterinary Behaviourist) both from South Australia.

One thing lead to another and the Checklist ended up on the Animal Welfare League of Australia’s new website on Positive Aging in the Company of Animals.

A summary version of The Checklist for Aged Care Providers: Residents Living with their Pets is summarised below.  A full & updated version of the Checklist is available from fiona@balancingactadelaide.com.au

The checklist summarises the range of issues an aged care provider would need to consider including:

  • Pet Policy
  • Pet Application & Pet Agreement Forms
  • Health Checks/ Behavioural Assessments
  • Environmental/ Design Considerations
  • Preventative Health Care
  • Ongoing Management
  • Support Pet Services.
  1. Pet Policy
    What is the policy for pets (i.e. dogs and cats) in your aged care facility?

It was found that many of the retirement communities accepting pets were overly focused on size and breed restrictions to determine permissibility, despite the fact that little dogs can often be very energetic and noisy compared to some larger dogs” Dr Gaille Perry, Delta (cited in Wood, L., 2009.)

Example – Based on Halcyon Retirement Community Pet Policy

• Pets to be considered on a case-by-case basis
• A behavioural assessment of dogs to be undertaken by a qualified behavioural trainer
• Pets to be fully vaccinated
• Dogs to be de-sexed
• Dogs to be registered (cited in Wood, L., 2009.).

2. Pet Application & Pet Agreement Forms

It is a good idea to develop Pet Application and Pet Agreement forms.

Pet Application Form
Include information such as:
• Name, age, type, and description of the pet
• Vaccination information, council registration certificate, microchip certificate
• Dog training certificates.

Pet Agreement Form
The Pet Agreement form is to outline the role and responsibilities of the pet owner (the resident).

Check out the Australian Companion Animal Council (ACAC) Pet Application and Pet Agreement forms for rental properties. These forms could be modified for an aged care facility.

3. Health Checks / Behavioural Assessments

Pets to undertake a full health check by a VET prior to being accepted
You may like to develop a patient record, health card to detail any illness or ongoing issues that will require treatment or maintenance.

Undertake a behavioural assessment of all dogs prior to being accepted
A behavioural assessment must be undertaken by a qualified dog behavioural trainer.

ExampleBehavioural Assessment
The behavioural assessment should include temperament and social skills of the dog including:

• Risk of injury to other animal and people
• Mental health of animals
• Suitability of animal to the specific environment
• Behaviour on lead
• Reactivity to noises, other animals, familiar and unfamiliar people.

4. Environmental/ Design Considerations
Consider the pet’s indoor and outdoor environments including:

Environmental
• Suitability of size and type of dog to the specific environment
• Type, amount, quality of indoor/outdoor space for pets
• Availability of on and off-leash areas for dogs.
Design
• Private room layout:
e.g. climbing opportunities, warm areas for cats, cat run
– adequate space for bedding, crates
– dog/cat door to a secure outdoor space
Will you need to retrofit the rooms to accommodate the animal’s needs? In the long-term, you may need to consider purpose built accommodation for both residents and pets.
• Access to outdoor areas:
– Provide safe, secure areas. Areas to have shade, shelter, access to water, and non-toxic or irritating plants in or near the area.
• Consider secure off leash areas for dogs and their owners (your own private dog park).

Check out Four Legs, Four Walls, Design Guidelines. A comprehensive guide to housing design with pets in mind by Virginia Jackson.

Preventative Health Care

Develop minimum preventative health standards for all pets
The standards must include:

Dogs
• C5 vaccination for all dogs including annual booster
• 3 monthly worming (due to zoonotic potential)

Cats
• FIV testing for all cats to make sure they are negative, history to make sure they would not likely to be a chronic carrier of respiratory disease
• Minimum of F3 vaccination
• 3 monthly worming

All Animals
• Monthly flea control would need to be given to all animals or an environmental flea issue could develop with multiple animals living in the same environment.

Example Preventative Health Plan
It is recommended that all animals be on a combination or all-in-one monthly product for flea and worm prevention. This will make it easier to implement, and all animals get their dose at the beginning of each month.

Prepare a Plan for Contagious Diseases
You should have a plan in place if one of the animals pick up a contagious disease e.g. ringworm, canine cough or cat flu. This is unlikely, but a plan of action needs to be in place.

Does your facility have the ability to isolate the pet until treatment is complete to limit any chance of spreading to other pets?

The authors strongly recommend that aged care providers employ dog trainers and support pet services that use positive reinforcement, force free training and pet care practices.

If you would like help in tailoring the Checklist to your aged care setting, please contact Fiona on  0431 863 357.