How do pets benefit people living with dementia?

Published: Thursday 30th September 2021

For many, pets offer unconditional love and companionship. Whether you have been diagnosed with dementia, are receiving dementia care, or are looking for ways to support a loved one, here are 7 benefits that pets can offer.

  1. Companionship

Living with dementia can be a lonely experience. A pet however, can offer comfort and impartial love; helping those living with dementia to feel accepted regardless of their abilities. What’s more, physical interactions such as stroking or brushing a dog’s fur can help nurture a close bond between person and pet.

Whatever the stage of dementia, a pet can provide affection and companionship. For those in the later stages who find communication difficult, an animal makes no demand on the individual to communicate; interacting instead through gestures and touch.

  1. Reduce social isolation

In care homes, pet therapy sessions are a means of bringing animals to residents who cannot otherwise care for a pet of their own. The presence of an animal can help people living with dementia to socialise with others.

This has proven to be true at Agincare’s Blenheim care home which provides residential, end-of-life and palliative care for older people with dementia. Niamh, activities coordinator at the care home describes how:

When we bring in the pets, the residents start listening to each other’s opinions. How it looks, what it is doing. Things like that. They start talking to each other about the pets.

-Niamh, Activities Co-Ordinator at Blenheim Care Home

The activity gives residents a reason to gather and engage in conversation. This, in turn, can increase mental stimulation and lead to greater interest in other group activities.

  1. Create a sense of routine

We all occasionally lose track of the days, but for someone with dementia, memory loss can make this an enduring experience. Whether they live at home or in residential care, pets offer that all-important sense of routine.

Having animals visit on specific days of the week or month can give those living with dementia something to look forward to. If the person is still capable of caring for a pet at home, the need to feed, walk, and provide attention all form part of a routine. This also benefits those living with dementia by giving them a continued sense of purpose.

  1. Calming effects

Interactions with animals can have numerous psychological benefits. Dr J. S. Odendaal, for his article “Animal-Assisted Therapy –Magic or Medicine?”, studied the biological changes in people and dogs during a positive interaction. His conclusion highlighted that the humans’ blood pressure was significantly reduced after the encounter, along with the level of stress chemicals such as Cortisol.

There was also an increase of Endorphins. These hormones have soothing effects on the body such as relieving stress and minimising pain. For someone with dementia then, interacting with animals really can have a calming effect.

The benefits of animal interaction were evident when Wild Science brought a variety of animals to Rochester Care Home, which provides residential, respite, palliative and end of life care to people living with dementia and cognitive impairment. The guinea pigs and rabbits proved to be big hits with the residents.

  1. Decrease distress behaviours

It is not uncommon for those living with dementia to show signs of distress behaviours. However, pet therapy can help reduce this.

By encouraging those with dementia to care for pets, they are more likely to be distracted from distressing thoughts and to use social behaviours such as physical interaction and smiling. The new responsibility can help to increase awareness of their own actions, and the impact these may have on others.

For those living with dementia who would benefit from the physical interaction but are unable to care for a pet at home, live-in or home care may be the answer. A care worker can help look after the animal. This means that, as well as providing support for the person living with dementia, they can assist them in enjoying the benefits of a pet without the stress of additional responsibilities.

  1. Unlock memories

Pets can also assist people living with dementia to unlock memories. In pet therapy, the physical interaction with the animals is a multi-sensory experience which helps them recall memories.

It is not just about seeing a dog. Touch, smell and sound can all be connected to a lost memory. This can bring back pleasant memories of a person’s own pets and encourage them to engage in conversation about them.

A common symptom of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, is short-term memory loss. However, pet therapy can also aid the creation of new memories. In care homes, it has been known for residents to recall the animals that visited them; even asking for the animal days later or talking to owners about how the pet has been between visits. Niamh explained that, following a pet therapy session at Blenheim:

One resident asked about the green animal. She was referring to the lizard she had held the day before.

-Niamh, Activities Co-Ordinator at Blenheim Care Home

  1. Increase activity

For those living with dementia who do not get a lot of exercise, a pet can assist them in becoming more physically active. It is not just about walking a dog. Cuddling, feeding and grooming an animal can all be enjoyable activities that increase mobility and build strength.

In a care home setting, pet therapy sessions encourage such activities by inviting residents to interact directly with the animals. They can walk them around the gardens, or simply sit down and hold or brush them.

All of our care homes have accessible outside spaces and large communal areas for activities. Pet therapy sessions are becoming increasingly popular and are a great way of encouraging residents to stay active.

What dementia care does Agincare offer?

Our specialist dementia care services offer flexible, tailored support without the need to change provider as the syndrome progresses.

We offer three types of care for people living with dementia:

Whether choosing to remain at home, or moving into a care home, living with dementia should not mean that you have to make sacrifices.

We see every day the benefit that pets can have bring to dementia care. That’s why we can support you in caring for your pets or bring trained therapy animals to you, whatever your choice of care option.


Call us now on 01305443115 to talk to our team about how we can support you or a family member with personalised care.