Despite all of the research showing the multitude of physical and mental health benefits that pets provide to people, there is still an alarming lack of pets in aged care, with only 18% of aged care facilities allowing residents to keep a companion animal, according to national animal welfare charity Companion Animal Network Australia’s 2023 Aged Care Survey: Status of Pets in Aged Care.
From reducing stress, providing companionship, encouraging social interactions and more, and often even more so for older adults who often face loneliness and isolation, and rely on their pets to thrive, whether they are living at home or in a residential aged care setting. So, the fact that so few pets are allowed in aged care are allowed, this is not only upsetting, but also unacceptable.
Also, when it comes to older adults living at home, 91% of those with pets who receive a government funded Home Care Package (HCP) do not receive support to help to care for their companion animal, according to survey results.
When will government bodies and those working in this sector begin to recognise that allowing pets in aged care, and support for struggling pensioners with pets, will have far-reaching benefits in terms of the mental and physical health of the ageing population? And when you consider this, it’s a no brainer to allow more pets in aged care and provide support to the elderly who need assistance to stay at home and keep their pets.
As the Ambassador for the Companion Animal Network, (CANA), this is something that I believe needs to be prioritised so we can preserve the bond between people and their pets by keeping them together for as long as it provides the best health outcome for the animal and their owner.
According to CANA CEO, Trish Ennis, “There’s often a catastrophic emotional harm caused when older people are forced to give up their pets upon moving into an aged care home, and resulting in their much-loved animals being surrendered to shelters across the country. “People are putting their lives on the line when they refuse to move into aged care because they can’t bring their pet with them. If more pets in aged care were allowed, aged care take-up by older people will increase and the number of pets being surrendered to animal shelters will decrease.”
In-home Aged Care – urgent need for pet care support
CANA’s Aged Care report also reveals older people who depend on in-home assisted living and the daily companionship of their animals lack the government support they desperately need,.
The survey reveals 61% of older adults live alone, and 74% of older adults with pets say their animals provide companionship and reduce loneliness. Whilst 40% of older adults who receive a HCP have pets, only 9% of these pet owners receive pet care support, such as walking their dog (64% need help) and taking their pet to the vet (62% need help).
“Our survey shows there is an urgent need to support pet ownership for older Australians who choose to live independently,” says Ms Ennis. “The health and well-being benefits of pet ownership are measurable and indisputable. The CHSP (Commonwealth Home Support Programme) and HCP can be extended to determine and secure the necessary assistance for a person to live independently with their pet by ensuring services are offered to support pet health and well-being.
“Increasing the number of pets allowed in aged care and in-home aged care support will also help to prevent animals from being euthanised or surrendered to shelters, and will maximise the physical and emotional health of animal loving older people.”
What are the barriers to supporting this?
According to CANA’s Aged Care Survey, 60% of people say the main barriers to pet ownership is lack of education among aged care providers on the benefits of pet ownership and a lack of funding to facilitate design changes to accommodate pets being a major challenge, despite the inclusion of pets in aged care being a great business model
That’s why CANA works closely with the residential facilities that allow clients to bring their pets with them and offer free resources, including pet related policies, guidelines and documents, for aged care providers, support agencies and organisations to manage and care for pets in aged care settings.
“As our population ages, solutions to maintaining a high quality of life include finding ways to help ageing people retain their pets,” says Ms Ennis.
* Survey data is based on 1,130 participants including older adults, aged care staff and the wider public. The survey will continue to collect responses. To participate, please visit https://petfriendlyagedcare.com.au/surveys/
How else can you help make a difference?
- Lobby for laws and funding that benefit pet ownership in aged care. Raise the topic with politicians in your state: find your local representatives or contact the relevant Aged Care Minister in your state or territory.
- Complete our ongoing survey to help us build our knowledge.
- If you’re a pet lover, volunteer your time to an aged care facility.
- Review the resources and guidance at https://petfriendlyagedcare.com.au
- If you work in the aged care industry, survey your clients’ demand for pet friendly services.
- Keep the movement purring with a donation to help us continue what we do.
- Share your story about pet friendly aged care living.
- Download Pet Friendly Aged Care resources and share on social media with hashtag #petfriendlyagedcare to help raise awareness!
Australia CAN represents the companion animal welfare work of member organisations across the country. The charity also celebrates the human-animal bond and promotes responsible pet ownership through national campaigns, partnerships and initiatives, such as the Rent with Pets program.
More stats! The state of play for older Australians
- 3 in 5 Aussie households have a pet*
- By 2050, Australians aged 65 – 84 are expected to double and people aged 85 and over are expected to more than quadruple to 1.8 million*
- By 2066, there will be more than 4.5m people aged 65–74; with 34% of the population being aged 75-84 and 21% being aged 85 and over*
- Loneliness costs Australia $2.7b each year*
Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog