Keep Your Pets Close: How Animals Help Dementia

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Image courtesy of kobkik at FreeDigitalPhotos.netWhen someone is diagnosed with dementia, it is often assumed that keeping their beloved pet is impossible. This is not necessarily the case. Studies have shown that pets have actually been known to increase the health of those with dementia while providing them with a friend to spend their time with. Owning a cute and cuddly companion can even be an essential part of their daily routine. Before jumping to any conclusions, it may be beneficial to review all of your options when it comes to this important decision.

How to Determine if a Pet Can Be Kept?

An unexpected diagnosis can be frightening or difficult, and some might discover that they want their pet to remain by their side. After considering the following factors, you may find that there are other alternatives to immediately giving up a best friend.

  1. Stage of Dementia

The first thing that must be considered is the current stage of dementia. An individual in the early stages of illness is typically more capable of taking care of a pet than someone in a later stage or who has had dementia for years.

  1. Work and Effort

The amount of work and effort required to take care of the pet is also important to keep in mind. If it’s a well-loved cat or calm dog that is low-maintenance and doesn’t require much more than plenty of love and cuddles, then it could be more helpful to keep the pet rather than cause the trauma of removing the pet.

  1. Is the Pet Wanted?

One question that must be asked, however, is whether or not the owner wants to keep the pet. Sometimes an animal can be a source of annoyance or stress for a person with dementia, depending on all of the above factors. Be mindful of the wants and needs of both the owner and the pet, and make informed decisions that are best for everyone involved.

Alternatives to Keeping a Pet Full-time

In these cases when a person with dementia does not want to take care of a pet themselves or is no longer capable of doing so, consider if a family or friend is willing to accept the responsibility. If an adored bunny or loving kitten can remain nearby and come for visits, it can still be extremely beneficial.

Call or plan visits ahead of time so that pets are expected and are more likely to be met with a warm welcome.  Try to keep visits to a reasonable length of time and be aware of when you have overstayed your welcome.

If You Have to Say Good-Bye

If the pet absolutely cannot be kept, consider visits from other animals. This is a great way to still receive the positive effects of an animal visit and keep the memory of a pet close at heart.

Positive Effects of Pets

There are many positive effects that owning or visiting with a pet can have on people with dementia. Below are listed several examples of ways that pets have improved behavior and health.

  • The presence of pets has been known to help with memory, especially with those who have owned pets previously. People with short-term memory loss tend to recall the animals that visit them, asking owners how the pet has been doing and contributing happily to the conversation by discussing pets they have had in the past.
  • Spending time with pets helps combat loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression. Animals make great companions that offer unconditional love and attention.
  • Pets also help those with dementia stay calm and feel relaxed. The actual act of petting or stroking an animal can bring peace and comfort.
  • Animal visits encourage exercise and cause bursts of energy. People with dementia tend to feel more inclined to get up and move about when it means spending time with their furry friends.

Pets provide love, laughter, and light to the lives of people every day. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with dementia, remain informed and evaluate your personal situation before you give up these wonderful members of your family. And if you must say goodbye, remember that there are other ways to incorporate animal interactions into your life.

Written by Celia Monroe,, 10/16/17

Image courtesy of kobkik at

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