Pet Therapy and Dementia

by | Apr 15, 2018 | Dementia, Memory Care

Pet Therapy and Dementia seem to go hand in hand.

The benefits of having a pet have long been known. More healthcare professionals are also realizing how beneficial it can be for people with dementia.

One of the biggest benefits is improving your well-being. Alan Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University says that simply petting an animal like a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure and your stress hormones. Additionally, it will increase your Oxytocin levels. This is the feel-good hormone you want more of.

Pet Therapy and dementia


For a lot of people with dementia, especially in the early stages, depression is common. Mid and late stage Alzheimer’s and Dementia residents often experience anxiety and agitation. Dogs and cats may ease the anxiety.

Intuitive Animals

Animals are very perceptive and tune it when someone is feeling anxious or down. They seem to know what that person needs and are able to offer comfort that another person cannot. Animals are great friends. They ask no questions and pass no judgments. They listen and comfort.


What About Fish?

Pet Therapy and dementia

Researchers at Purdue University have found that displaying tanks of brightly colored fish may curtail disruptive behaviors and improve eating habits of people with the disease of Alzheimer’s dementia.

The study showed a decrease in dementia behaviors.  Things like wandering, pacing, yelling and physical aggression. And they ate more! Getting someone with this disease to eat is sometimes a challenge. The study showed that the average increase in food consumption was 17.2 percent.

4 Ways Pets Are Able to Help Patients With Dementia


1.Physical Activity

Pets, especially dogs, are great to help seniors get up and move around. Petting, walking and playing with them provides an activity all seniors can enjoy.

2.Emotional Support

Pet Therapy and dementiaAs stated above, pet therapy can help seniors to relax. Their non-judgmental nature is comforting to someone with dementia.If you have ever had a dog or cat as a child you probably shared your problems with them. I know I did. I used to pour my heart out to my dog. Being able to release pent-up emotions helps to avoid depression. And depression is a common problem as people age. The loss of friends and family, a job or sense of purpose often may cause someone to spiral into a depressed state.

3.Sense of Purpose

Everyone needs to have a sense of purpose. Pets of any kind can give someone with dementia that feeling of being needed, that purpose. Whether it be a soft kitten who wants to be pet or fish or birds that need to be fed, these animals can provide this much-needed feeling of belonging.


Any senior who has had a pet as a child will most likely remember something about that long-ago experience. This is a great way to get someone to open up and share information and experiences from their past.

Residents often talk to each other more when pets are around. They want to tell others about the dog or cat or another animal they remember so dearly.

“The place comes alive when the therapy dogs arrive”, said Susan “everybody wants their turn. There is so much joy and excitement in the air!’


Pet therapy has grown increasingly popular over the last decade. Therapy dogs and other animals can stimulate social interaction and ease agitation in dementia patients.

“You can just see the faces light up when I come in with Bailey (a Golden retriever)” said Amanda, Bailey’s owner. “Everyone wants a chance to pet him. People, who may not have spoken in months start talking about a beloved pet they had when they were a child. It is such a blessing to be able to do this.”

Amanda and Bailey visit several Memory care homes.  She and Bailey went through specialized training to be able to provide the service. Not all dogs have the right temperament. Some dogs do not react well to other dogs, certain types of people may scare them, they may be too shy, or they may be too active for therapy dog work.

Where Do Pets Go to Get Certified to Offer Pet Therapy?

In Houston, there are several places that someone can bring their pet to be certified. Faithful Paws Houston has been certifying pets for 20 years. This organization is a ministry of the Bellaire United  Methodist Church.

Their classes are ongoing and take several weeks to complete. Every year, members are required to complete a renewal form, submit an updated copy of their pets’ current rabies vaccination certificate(s), and pay the annual membership fee ($22).

Faithful Paws accepts Cats, dogs, and rabbits into their program.

Houston Therapy Dogs is a local chapter of a non-profit organization out of New Jersey. While they do not provide any training for the therapy dogs, all dogs must pass a certification process. Dogs must be at least one year old to apply. There is no maximum age as long as they pass the requirements.

Caring Critters has been enhancing the lives of the elderly and disabled since 1988. They are a non-profit, Houston-area organization. The group is comprised of volunteers Pet Therapy and dementiaand their pets participating in Animal-Assisted Therapy activities. They have over 200 volunteers that make regular visits to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and Memory Care communities.

New volunteers must attend an all-day Saturday (9am-4pm) orientation workshop. The following Saturday the new volunteer will return for one hour, at a scheduled time, to temperament test their pet.

Caring Critters accepts all types of pets with the exception being reptiles. They even had a therapy duck one time who visited hospitals. He walked on a leash, down the hospital hallway, and on the elevator with a group of dogs, wearing a diaper made from a camouflage jockstrap!

Some places have reported bringing in therapy chickens if you can imagine! There are all kinds of animals that can bring a spark to someone’s eye.

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