When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it shouldn’t mean that they have to give up their beloved pets. There are ways to integrate them to ensure they remain lifelong well-loved members of the family.
Pets are a lifetime commitment, but it is understandable that most of us would wonder if a person with dementia is able to continue looking after their pet. It can be tempting to assume that they won’t be able to care for it or that it will be an additional source of stress for the main caregiver. Often, finding these pets a new home are presented as an easy way out.
But this doesn’t have to be the case! If anything, research suggests that caring for a pet is good for persons with dementia. With the unconditional love they often give, as well as the sensory stimulation that looking after them provides, pets can be a source of great comfort and joy.
Of course, this depends on the nature of the pet, as well as the progression of dementia. It is our responsibility as caregivers to offer support and make sure both the person with dementia and their pet are doing well. Here are some methods to make caring for pets easier:
Remind, remind, remind!
Setting reminders makes a huge difference, and will enable the person with dementia to play a part in caring for their pet. Set alarms with notes that remind the person of the work at hand, like filling the pet’s water or food dish, taking them for a walk, or cleaning their living space. Leaving post-it notes with important details like food allergies in places that are visible will be very helpful as well.
Set up a timetable
Work important routines like feeding and walking of the pet into a timetable. Used together with alarms, a timetable will help ensure the pet does not get over or under-fed, again helping the person with dementia to play an active role in caring for their pet. Instead of wondering if they’ve fed the pet already, the person with dementia can double check the schedule on the timetable.
Choose house visits
To make things easier on yourself and the person with dementia, look for groomers that make house calls so there’s no need to worry about transportation to and from these sessions. No more wrestling with the pet in the tub, or struggling to lure it into the carrier. Similarly, if the pet is ill and needs veterinarian attention, call on a vet who makes house calls.
Remember, you’re not alone
Last but certainly not least, don’t be afraid to admit if you need help caring for the pet, or are unable to cope with being caregiver to both the person with dementia and a pet. At the end of the day, it is important to make sure the pet has the care it needs, even if you are unable to provide it alone.
On the flip side, there might come a point where the person with dementia is unable to cope with caring for the pet any longer. Signs include seeing the pet put on or lose weight, or the person with dementia themselves complaining or showing resentment towards the pet.
In this case, the best option may be to rehome the pet with friends or family nearby, so that the person with dementia can visit it from time to time. If that is not an option, engage the help of a dog shelter or adoption drive to find a loving home for the pet.