The Benefit of Therapy Animals in Care Homes Discussed by Bristol Care Homes

Many care and nursing homes now have realised the importance of pet or animal therapy within their care homes and both the positive physical and mental effects of having an animal within your home environment regularly. So exactly what are the benefits of Therapy Animals in Care Homes?

Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, horses and many other animals have always been companions to people of all ages, they give companionship, support, loyalty, physical and mental exercise through good and bad.

What is Animal Therapy in Care or Nursing Homes?

Animals offer unconditional love and companionship and research also suggests that animals have the ability to boost general health and well-being, especially as we age. Pet or animal therapy, which is also referred to as animal-assisted therapy is a therapy that uses animals as a form of companionship and treatment for people of all ages. The aim of therapy can be to improve emotional, social, or cognitive abilities.

Pet therapy is now offered in a range of settings, including retirement living, community care, residential care and nursing homes, hospices, rehabilitation centres as well as the opportunity for pets to go into someones own home on a regular basis. Animals used for this recognised therapy can range anything from domesticated pets to beautiful farm animals and Bristol Care Homes recently had 2 Alpaca’s visit their homes which the residents and staff loved, along with the regular dog visits.

As we age a pet can provide sound companionship if a loved one has passed, they are a friendly face and someone to talk to during their days. Dogs are a great companion as they encourage owners to get out in the fresh air and exercise, even if it’s a short stroll up the road or to the local park. Cats are great too, they love a cuddle on your lap and like to wander around the garden which is a great way of encouraging you to get outside with them. They are also an excellent option if you struggle with mobility as they are more independent compared to dogs and you don’t have to walk them every day.

Pets have been proven to have calming effects on their owner and just stroking, sitting next to, or playing with a pet offers the opportunity for your mind to be calm and for you to relax with the feeling that you aren’t on your own. Caring for a pet offers routine and reward to a person, a sense of achievement as well as making an owner feel valued and needed. Therapy animals have also shown that they have a positive impact on residents suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s as they often bring back happy memories of previous pets or memories of good times with their family and friends.

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of animal therapy for all ages and this is why more and more care and nursing homes are allowing pets into their homes for their residents on a regular basis.

The Benefits of Therapy Animals in Care Homes

Reduces Stress and Depression

Animals have a calming nature on humans and research has proved that they can increase levels of oxytocin in our bodies which is the stress-reducing hormone, whilst also decreasing the production of cortisol which is a producer of stress.

Animals are also believed to have a positive impact in reducing high blood pressure and this comes from the calming and relaxing effect they have on people, as well as reducing stress caused by the feeling of loneliness and isolation.

Therapy animals in care or nursing homes offer affection, enjoyment, and entertainment, giving residents a break in routine and something they can look forward to. Residents are often more likely to join in with activities with others in the home when a therapy pet is around and they not only offer companionship with an individual but also help them to build friendships with other residents in the home.

If a resident has previously had their own pet or had to give a pet up as they have got to the stage when they are no longer able to look after them on their own then a therapy animal will give them the joy and companionship they would have previously had with their own pet. They are known to ease loneliness for people who are missing their homes and, or their own pets and increase social interaction with others around them.

Reducing blood pressure, increasing movement and levels of oxytocin can also improve a residents perception of pain, stress levels, and mood which is all positive. Therapy animals have also shown they can increase positive social behaviour and decrease agitated behaviour in people with dementia.

Brings Back Fond Memories

Therapy animals often bring back happy memories of previous pets or times with family and friends and this is a positive way of unlocking memories for residents who are suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer.

Alzheimers.net has reported: “While companionship is an obvious benefit, a well-timed pet visit may also help with anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon to watch someone transition from emotionless to joyful when a pet enters the room, especially if it triggers pleasant memories.”

It has been stated that many seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can start to feel depressed as time goes by as a result of not being able to communicate how they would like to do things, not being able to do things on their own and general communication and although pet therapy doesn’t “cure” emotions, it can significantly improve mindset and distract from negative feelings”

Reduces Loneliness

When someone moves into a care or nursing home although they have lots of other residents around them as well as care staff it is often a lonely experience. Moving away from a home you have lived in for years and sometimes away from your family can be isolating and people often feel like their independence and identity have been taken away. Even if they have never owned an animal before having one come into a care or nursing home has shown dramatic effects on thousands of residents with the majority of them reacting positively with their loneliness and isolation decreasing. When an animal is introduced into a home whether permanently, a couple of times a week or even on occasions in a month, residents will look forward to the pet being there, it offers them a positive connection, happiness and companionship. Stroking an animal is relaxing and enables them to build a positive relationship with the pet and other residents when it’s there.

Alpacas in Care HomesBoosts Activity Levels

Animal Therapy in care or nursing homes helps to introduce physical exercise for those that don’t otherwise have the incentive to move around, or for others, it will increase the exercise that they do. They may take the dog for a stroll around the gardens and even bending down and stroking a cat or dog is positive movement and engagement for a resident. The residents may lift them onto their laps, cuddle them, play with them and help to feed and groom them and all of these activities are movement and a form of positive exercise and mental stimulation. Activities like these, however small can reduce inflammation, increase blood circulation and improve strength and mobility, as well as improve mental wellbeing and these are all positive benefits as we get older.

Increases Social Interaction

A therapy animal coming into a care or nursing homes give the residents something to look forward to and encourage’s them to get involved not only with the animal but with the other residents, staff and the pet therapy owner. This can be the most difficult part of moving into a care or nursing home, reaching out to others and getting involved so it’s a good way of promoting social interaction between the residents. They may just want to sit and look at what is going on to start with, but it will nearly always bring a smile to their face and most often they will want to give the animal a stroke or a cuddle as time goes by. Pets and animals can make residents feel accepted and loved unconditionally, no matter their age, ability or illness and the unconditional part is something that not all human interactions can provide. Stroking a pet or having them sit on your lap gives you unconditional affection. An animal can be a listening ear, someone to confide in, talk to, they are non-judgemental and offer unconditional love and affection.

Improves & Increases Emotional Wellbeing

Pet therapy in care or nursing homes brings happiness and laughter to many residents giving them something to look forward to, an animal to connect to and love with no strings attached and all of this brings emotional well being.

Therapy Pet reports: “Pet therapy builds on the animal-human bond. Interacting with a friendly animal can assist in alleviating numerous mental and physical issues. Not only does it help lower blood pressure and enhance general cardiovascular health but can also release endorphins that in turn produce a soothing effect. This can help lower stress, minimise pain, and improve one’s general psychological state.”

All the different reasons and benefits gained from pet therapy are a plus and it offers residents of care or nursing homes many benefits that however small all have a positive effect on their lives when they are separated from loved ones, family and friends in their local community pet therapy brings the care or nursing home community together. The benefits and positive aspects of it can be a vital component for physical and mental health with no negative aspects associated with it. Even if a resident isn’t or hasn’t ever been an animal lover they often get involved and enjoyed the time they have with the pet.

Sam’s Safari’s Say:

There are many incredible benefits of interactions with animals, influencing not just our happiness but also our health. Our animals have visited people in care and nursing homes, hospices, disability groups and schools for children with learning difficulties, lighting up faces and lifting the moods of all who meet them.

Research shows that interaction with an animal can reduce anxiety and depression, decrease blood pressure and encourage relaxation…. (sigh)…. no wonder it’s hard to get any work done around here! Interaction can be in the form of looking, or even just listening to the noises they make, or information we are telling – however tactile interaction, touching, stroking and holding our animals often has the most profound effects (and the animals love it too). We have seen first hand the effects that our animal friends have on children and adults alike who don’t normally engage, find it difficult to communicate or need a boost of morale in long-term care.

It’s heartwarming to see elderly residents become animated telling stories of pets they once had and the people they shared them with. We often visit care homes specialising in dementia care where, in the company of an animal, residents often start to interact, ask questions, smile, and show compassion and tenderness towards an animal that they have not shown to fellow human beings.

Our visits to groups and schools for young people and adult with learning difficulties and disabilities are always rewarding. Our animal team provide sensory stimulation, boost confidence and aid relaxation. Parents, carers and teachers are amazed at the engagement with and reactions to our little critters. and see increased attention and eye contact (with both us and the animals), and calmer behaviour around the animals, it’s clear how much fun is had by all.

We also see the simple joy and happiness that spending time with an animal can bring to people in difficult times, which reminds us why we love our job so much! Watching how a cuddle from one of our animal friends brightens up the day of children in the hospices that we visit and provides a companion for sufferers of illness that feel alone.
Our animals visiting for therapy allows us to enhance many lives and if we can make someone feel a little happier, a little prouder, a little more confident or motivated to do something like asking a question, focus or interact, then our animal team have done us proud!

​A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that being around animals has a positive impact on the body’s hormone levels. This could explain why pet therapy can help people with depression and stress.

The science supports the idea that animals bring happiness to people of all ages, especially the role pet therapy can have in elderly care. As everyone grows older, they need more support to do the things they love doing and this is something that is at the heart of our care homes.

About Bristol Care Homes

Bristol Care Homes are an independently owned group of 4 high-quality care homes in Bristol. Our dedicated team provide quality and caring services every day and our founding vision is to provide excellence in all aspects of care for all our residents.

At Bristol Care Homes we believe that the benefits of animal therapy are huge and every resident will get something different from the animals that visit us. We have dogs that regularly come into our homes which the residents love and really look forward to, and who they build positive and unconditional relationships with. We recently had 2 Alpacas come to our homes and the joy in the resident’s faces was immense. They were able to stroke the Alpacas and learnt loads about them which stimulated them mentally and physically. Alpacas are famous for their gentleness and we have put their therapeutic benefits into place at our homes across Bristol. The gentle nature of alpacas makes them perfect for our activity-based visits, and residents have welcomed them into our homes.

Our service leads the way in care home provision and this shows in our Care Quality Commission Ratings:

Glebe House – Outstanding – Glebe House Care Home Bristol CQC Report

Beech House – Outstanding – Beech House Care Home Bristol CQC Report 

Field House – Good – Field House Care Home Bristol CQC Report

Quarry House – Good – Quarry House Care Home Bristol CQC Report

We are always looking to be innovative in our services and we offer many features which will help you or your loved one to maintain a high level of fulfilment in your life, including Animal Therapy in all of our homes. Many of our services are unique to Bristol Care Homes and all include:

  • Beautiful gardens with plenty of greenery, trees and flowers
  • Environmentally designed buildings with 24/7 air circulation always keeping the atmosphere fresh and airy
  • Spacious rooms with increased ceiling height which gives the feel of openness
  • Wide corridors for ease of access
  • Television, DVD Player and direct line telephones in each room
  • Internet access in residents rooms
  • Customised top quality wheelchairs provided when needed
  • High technology baths and walk-in showers
  • Minibus services with a regular schedule of trips
  • Regular maintenance and replacement cycles of new carpets and decoration
  • Top Quality dedicated chefs producing tasty, varied and nutritious meals
  • Programme of interesting and stimulating social activities for all our residents including Animal Therapy
  • Warm, friendly and caring staff who get to know each resident and take time with them every day to ensure they are happy and fulfilled

Contact us today to find out more about us, the services we offer, our Therapy Animals and how we can help you find the Best Care Home in Bristol.