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Risk Management: Pet Contact in Nursing Homes

One of the things many nursing home residents miss most is the companionship of a pet. It is heartbreaking to leave behind a beloved pet when a move to a long-term care facility is necessary. While many nursing homes have regular visits from therapy dogs, many are now opening their doors to permanent dog and cat residents either as facility pets, or as companions for individual residents.

Pets usually have a very positive effect on nursing home residents. Therefore, they are often are used for companionship, psychological support, and therapy. As companions, pets provide affection, engage residents, and give residents something for which to care.

Therapy Dogs

Many social workers, physical therapists, and occupational therapists provide dogs for therapy. Therapy dogs are often considered staff members at their facility, and may even wear special collars or accessories to be identified as such. They are trained to interact gently with residents, sense people's comfort with them, and not to be afraid of wheelchairs, walkers and canes. Some therapy dogs even learn to assist with basic tasks such as fetching needed items and turning on light switches.

Facility Guidelines

Most state regulations allow pets, even though nursing homes are considered medical facilities. To mitigate risk, facilities need to have guidelines and procedures in place for pets allowed at the facility. Pets should be controlled – either by leash or carrying crate – and have current vaccinations. If visitors bring pets, they should bring proof of health and vaccination on the first visit and copies should be made and maintained in facility files.

Facility Concerns

Most of the time, residents with pets need their own mini-apartments, rather than rooms lining shared corridors. Additionally, facilities require residents with pets to be functional enough to perform most of the required caretaking duties. Pets need to have a temperament conducive to residing in a facility without interfering with the duties of the staff or the safety of other residents.

Health Concerns

A study by Gandolfi-Decristophoris and colleagues published in American Journal of Infection Control, evaluated pet contact as a risk factor for carriage of multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in nursing home residents. Multidrug-resistant S aureus was more common in nursing homes without pets than in those with pets.

Some residents may have allergic reactions to pet hair or dander. Additionally, some elderly residents may fear dogs or cats. The health and emotional reactions of all resident need to be considered when a facility contemplates the introduction of pets.

Dogs and cats are finding full-time homes in long-term care facilities as the therapeutic benefits of pets for residents are realized. Pets may belong to residents, be facility pets for all to share, or part of a more structured program of pet visitation and therapy. Whatever their role, they present residents with beneficial interaction and the love only a devoted pet can provide.

At Highland Risk, we can offer our agents products to meet the specific needs of their clients. Please call us at one of our two offices in Chicago at 847-832-9100 or Lansing at 517-676-7100 for further information about our programs.

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