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Companion animals in aged-care accommodation

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Ratification Date: 03 Dec 2015

Policy

The integration of companion animals into retirement and aged-care facilities has many potential benefits. The aged care industry are encouraged to take responsibility for implementing such initiatives. Veterinarians should be involved in protocol development and care of these animals to ensure their optimal health and welfare, to maximise benefits and minimise risks for the animals and facility residents.

Background

The benefits of including companion animals in retirement or aged-care facilities are believed to include improvements in physical health and in social, emotional and cognitive functioning.1 A review of relevant studies2 showed pets are beneficial to their owners’ health, while other studies identified risks such as the potential for zoonoses and allergies3. There is also research showing negative impacts when elderly owners are institutionalised and separated from their pets.4 As the Australian population ages, the demand for aged care accommodation is likely to rise along with the trend for including companion animals in these facilities. Animals may be owned by the facility itself or may be brought in and privately owned by individual residents. While the benefits of these arrangements are well documented, the management of associated risks to the animals and residents is best achieved through establishment of a stable veterinarian–client–patient relationship.

Guidelines

Guidelines Veterinarians should be consulted if possible during the design of aged-care and retirement facilities to ensure they are constructed in a manner suitable to accommodate animals. Modifications to existing premises may be necessary prior to introduction of animals (for example, provision of suitable fencing and outdoor toileting areas for dogs). Animals should be health checked and undergo any necessary screening procedures to reduce the risk of introduction of zoonoses. Particular attention should be paid to the risk of transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) between the dogs, residents and staff. Animals should also undergo behavioural assessment by a suitably qualified veterinarian prior to entry to such facilities and thereafter on a regular basis. The facility and individual owner(s) of the companion animals should enter into an arrangement for regular veterinary care with a veterinary professional, including arrangements for out-of-hours emergencies. Veterinarians may be proactive in establishing these relationships to encourage increased integration of companion animals into aged care facilities. A staff member or suitable nominee of the facility should be responsible for overseeing and coordinating such arrangements, including liaising with the veterinary practitioner. A national listing of pet-friendly aged care accommodation can be found here: http://petfriendlyagedcare.com.au/finding-pet-friendly-accommodation/#facility-lists

Date of ratification by the AVA Board: 03 December 2015

References

  1. Pet therapy for the elderly: http://www.agedcareguide.com.au/home-community-care-information?c=37&i=122 viewed 19/1/15
  2. Chur-Hansen A, Russell Winefield H, Beckwith M. Companion animals for elderly women: the importance of attachment. Qualitative Research in Psychology 2009;6:281-293
  3. Headey, B. Health Benefits and Health Cost Savings Due to Pets: Preliminary Estimates from an Australian National Survey. Social Indicators Research 1999;47(2):233-243
  4. Morley C and Fook J. The importance of pet loss and some implications for service. Mortality 2005;10:127-143