Guest post from Senior Advice
For all families, the anticipation of losing a loved one to death from an illness or old age is a sad and often stressful time. The process is also stressful for the patient but the presence of animals, their own pet or a trained therapy animal, can have a measured and profound impact on a dying patient’s sense of well-being.
Having their own pet around is helpful, bringing unconditional affection, a soothing sense of calm and reduced feelings of despair or loneliness. For those who cannot have their own small pet with them, pet therapy is becoming more common, even standard, during hospice or end of life care.
Whether a patient is at home in their own bed or is staying in a hospital or hospice facility, animals can play a role. Pet therapy animals are usually small dogs or cats. Sometimes rabbits are used and in a few cases, when the patient can go outside for interaction, horses are used as well.
Benefits of Pet Therapy
Pet therapy is more than just a feel good experience. There are actual measurable physical changes that occur as a result of interaction with therapy animals. Patients often report a reduction in pain, their heart rate becomes more stable and the act of cuddling, petting and playing with a pet also improves their basic motor skills. There are also important reasons to play with a ball, tossing it back and forth. In some cases, just watching an animal do simple tricks can also be a big stress lifter.
Maybe more importantly, time with a therapy animal reduces stress, lowers anxiety, improves overall outlook and significantly decreases the sense of loneliness that many seniors encounter at the end of life. For these reasons it should come as no surprise that many senior living providers are now offering pet friendly assisted living.
Pet Therapy Pets and Handlers
Being with a beloved pet is good for the patient. But true pet therapy is a little bit different from that experience. A trained animal with a trained guide can provide a lasting and consistent experience. The animals must be well-behaved and should have no history of aggression. Instead, they should welcome human interaction, obey basic commands like “sit” or “stay” and usually therapy animals are no longer puppies or kittens. They need to be old enough to have been trained.
The handler also, like the therapy pet, should be trained for this work. They not only keep the patient safe from the animal, but they are also responsible for keeping the animal safe as well. They help others in the room interact with the animal while maintaining a strong and calm level of control over the situation.
When a family is dealing with end of life issues, having a cute, cuddly animal in the room creates a calming and peaceful atmosphere. It can act as a temporary escape to many difficult and painful thoughts that tend to win out during the journey through life’s end. Therapy pets usually put a smile on every face in the room and they take our mind off of the pain and allow the family to just be together. Or if the patient is alone, to not be alone anymore, even for just a little while. In most cases, pet therapy is a happy and welcome remedy for everyone involved.