While Australian households have one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, this doesn't carry through to our aged care services, according to a study by the Animal Welfare League of Australia (AWLA).
The 2018 Animal Welfare League Australia Pets in Aged Care Study revealed that while 64 per cent of Australian households are pet owners, only 18 per cent of residential aged care facilities allow pets to reside with their owners.
Those ageing in their own home can't always access the support to keep their pets either, with only 9 per cent of in-home services saying that they offer pet-friendly services.
The result is that many seniors are forced to give away or surrender their beloved family pets when they make the move to aged care.
According to AWLA figures, more than 6.75% of surrenders are directly related to the necessity of aged care, but this figure is believed to be higher when taking in other issues facing senior pet owners such as unsuitable pet accommodation and lack of financial means to take care of a pet.
It is estimated that more than 4,000 cats and dogs are surrendered to rehoming and impounding organisations every year due to elderly-related reasons.
According to Seasons Aged Care Chief Executive Officer Nick Loudon, elderly people moving into aged care can already feel a level of sadness due to leaving their family home and this sense of loss can be even more profound when they need to separate from their much-loved pets.
"Part of the reason that we encourage pet ownership within Seasons' communities is that when a resident is strongly bonded to their pet, and the care of that pet is well-supported, there are huge benefits for that resident which creates a ripple effect across to other residents and staff," says Mr Loudon.
Benefits of pet-friendly aged care services
Aged services that support and encourage pet ownership may be in the minority, however, the wide-ranging health benefits of pets for seniors is well documented. Pet ownership helps to decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation, while increasing social interaction, providing purpose and meaning and improving the quality of life of their owners.
Some further benefits of pet-friendly aged care services include:
- Eases the transition to aged care
- Reduces feelings of loneliness
- Health benefits include reduced stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and increased aerobic activity.
- Greater uptake of aged care services due to not having to surrender their much-loved pet
- Reduces animal surrender rates to shelters
- Helps increase feelings of independence
- Boosts morale and happiness for both staff and residents
Many Seasons residents report that knowing that they could bring their pets along with them when they moved, was a key reason they chose to live at Seasons including Lyn from Seasons Aged Care Kallangur.
When Lyn came to look at Seasons, the large off-leash area within the community caught her eye.
"When I came to look at the community, I said to my son, look at this! It's just wonderful," says Lyn. "Now I'm here, I come down in the morning and again in the afternoon."
"My dog Ski means everything to me. I wouldn't go anywhere without her."