A survey of more than 4,000 members of the public by PFMA, the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, reveals 90% of people think that separation from a pet is traumatic for older people entering residential care or sheltered accommodation.
The TNS research also found 83% agree pets make their owners happier and 54% think pet owners should be able to make the choice about entering care facilities after seeing the accommodation policy.
Pets provide significant benefits to elderly people; those who keep pets when entering care homes enjoy a smoother transition into residential care, as well as significant health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Other proven health benefits for older people with pets include: reduced blood pressure and cholesterol; improved recovery from heart attacks and strokes; better social interactions in people with dementia; and fewer GP visits.
Conducted in March 2010, the research helped shape the PFMA’s goal to ensure all leading UK housing providers implement responsible pet policies that enable older people to make an informed choice about their future. This commitment is part of the organisation’s 2020 vision to make a better world with pets, launched to mark its 40th anniversary.
The PFMA is working closely with SCAS (Society for Companion Animal Studies) and MPs taking the issue forward – including Ian Cawsey, Nick Palmer and Nigel Waterson – to strive for fairer treatment of the older pet-owning public.
Ian Cawsey, MP for Brigg and Goole, said: ‘Today we have more than 11 million elderly adults living in Britain, of whom approximately 25% are pet-owners. This figure is estimated to rise to 14 million by 2026 and the majority of these people will eventually require some form of residential care. Unfortunately growing older often involves inevitable heartache and loss but being separated from a pet when entering care facilities should not be part of it. This is why I welcome the PFMA’s 2020 goal to ensure care facilities implement responsible pet policies over the next decade.”
PFMA, Chief Executive, Michael Bellingham, explains: “Having analysed the research and consulted SCAS we are delighted to announce our 2020 ambition to ensure fairer treatment of the older pet-owning public. The importance of pets to people in care facilities cannot be under-estimated. Over the next ten years we want to make a big difference to the lives of older pet owners.”
This latest call to action follows the successful passing of shadow minister for older people, Nigel Waterson’s bill – Care Homes and Sheltered Accommodation (Domestic Pets) Bill -which aims for a more “enlightened and responsible” policy for allowing pet owners in residences to keep their beloved animals.
CASE STUDY: A SUCCESSFUL PET-FRIENDLY HOUSING SCHEME
Wandsworth Borough Council operates a positive pet policy and has been permitting pets in sheltered schemes since 2001. Wandsworth’s executive member for housing Martin D Johnson said: “Pet ownership is an enriching part of many elderly people’s lives. As well as offering companionship, they keep their owners active and are a link to social activities that prevent isolation. We’ve had pets in our sheltered schemes for nine years without a single significant problem. Our experience proves this type of housing can easily accommodate animals and there is no need to deny elderly people the pleasures and benefits of pet ownership. We want other housing providers to rethink their attitudes to animals and realise the huge benefits they represent.”
OTHER SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH PROMOTING BENEFITS OF PETS TO OLDER PEOPLE:
Older people who are forced to part with a pet when moving into residential care can suffer feelings of bereavement that are similar to the loss of a family member. Severe reactions can lead to depression, disturbed sleep or eating patterns, and even physical illness (source: McNicholas, J. & Collis, G.M. (1995), ‘The end of a relationship: coping with pet loss.’).
· Pet ownership in older people is also associated with better coping with major life stresses, such as bereavement, which is more common in older people. Pet owners adjust to spousal bereavement better than non-owners (source: McNicholas et al 2005, BMJ).