The Roles of Pets for Dementia Patients

The Roles of Pets for Dementia Patients

A sweet puppy can put a smile on your face, but there’s so much more to pets and the roles they play in care homes. The positive impact spreads to many areas, including improved general health outcomes and boosted emotional well-being. For that reason, you might find that working with the residents of a care home includes working alongside animals. We’re focusing on the therapeutic role of pets for people with dementia, but animals can aid residents across the whole of social care.

Those who already work in health and social care will be curious to know the role a pet can play. For those looking to start working in a care home, knowing what to expect helps achieve a smooth start. Read on to find out about pets in care homes and the benefits they bring to people living with dementia.

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Can Pets Positively Impact the Well-Being of Individuals Living with Dementia

Pets have a positive impact in several areas of life. In a care home, a pet can give the environment more of a home-like feel, especially for new residents. It’s one of the reasons that some care homes allow residents to bring their pets with them. Besides adding to the homely atmosphere, pets often put people at ease.

Pet therapy research has focused on health benefits that help many people, especially those with dementia. Two noticeable positive impacts are how pets lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce anxiety levels. 

Pet therapy extends beyond the physiological. Here are some of the main benefits they bring.

Routine and Purpose

Depending on the mobility of the resident, a pet can encourage a person to maintain a level of physical activity. Whether it’s a short walk outside, performing an act of care or playing with a toy, pets provide a fun way to keep muscles moving. 

There’s a sense of purpose in the activity and something to look forward to on a daily or weekly basis. The routine of a walk, a play session or seeing a particular pet each day or week helps add some structure, which is beneficial for people living with dementia.


Animals make excellent companions. When verbal communication is difficult, a resident with dementia can feel less frustrated when interacting with a pet who provides company and affection.

A purring cat, a dog that’s pleased to see them or a rabbit that wants to cuddle can soothe anxiety, distract from negative feelings and boost self-esteem. The combined effect is significant when it comes to improving mental health and easing loneliness.

Engaging and Communicating

As well as finding it easier to spend time with animals when communication is challenging, pets provide an excellent talking point. Pets encourage engagement and interaction with other residents and also with support and care workers. 

This stimulation and the increased interaction are particularly beneficial for people with dementia. It can encourage them to participate in other social clubs and activities.


Working with fond memories is a key activity when it comes to supporting people living with dementia. Pets can play a role in reminiscence, as they remind residents of previous pets or other times interacting with animals. 

Even if they didn’t have a pet, the positive interaction can evoke playfulness and joy. These feelings can bring back other positive memories of when the person felt a similar sense of happiness.

Which Types of Pets Provide the Most Benefits for Dementia Patients?

Pet therapy can take many forms and involve different types of animals. Let’s take a look at the different options and see which ones provide the most benefits.

  • Dogs - The number one choice for dementia patients, dogs provide companionship, can be trained to assist residents, encourage physical activity and routine and are calm and intelligent.
  • Cats - Cats can be less intimidating for those who don’t like larger animals. However, they still provide companionship, cuddles and love.
  • Chickens - These outdoor animals can deliver a routine. When a care home keeps hens, residents can get involved in feeding them, collecting the eggs and ensuring they’re back in the hen house at night. It keeps people active, adds purpose and since hens often have quirky personalities, also leads to bonding.
  • Parrots - Parrots are intelligent and can learn words to communicate with a person living with dementia, which can be a real boost to someone struggling with speech. They’re a lot of fun, too.
    Alpacas/horses/donkeys - Sessions with outside animals, such as alpacas, can provide stimulation in a different setting. They’re a nice distraction for restless patients that can manage some activity.
  • Rabbits/guinea pigs - Smaller animals, like rabbits, are easier to care for and don’t require as much activity. They’re a brilliant way to encourage more movement in the hands when stroking and their size and soft fur provide comfort.
  • Fish - Interactions come in all forms. Many people in care homes find it relaxing to watch fish swimming in a tank. Plus, the bright colours are a great source of stimulation.

How Do Care Homes Use Pets?

Pet therapy is beneficial and it can be carried out in many ways. Sometimes, it can be as simple as accepting residents with pets, so that a care home has a more homely feel. Other times, it might involve having a care home cat or fish tank, where all the residents benefit from a little interaction.

Pet therapy can be run with more planning and purpose. For example, introducing specially trained assistance animals to help residents with specific tasks and to provide companionship. 

It could involve weekly or monthly visits with animals from a shelter or local sanctuary. In these cases, people from the sanctuary might come and provide information about the animals and their care.

The positive impact of pets in social care extends not only to the residents but also to the dedicated professionals who work in social care to create a nurturing and supportive environment. The integration of pets into care homes not only improves the well-being of individuals living with dementia but also contributes to a more fulfilling and rewarding career for those working in social care.