As an Alzheimer or dementia caregiver it is tempting to think that getting your loved one a companion pet might make them happier. Let's talk about the struggles and help that having a dog or a cat for your elderly parent can bring!
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Do They Already Have One (or More?) Pets
My Mother In Law came to live with us after a pretty significant fall (she had lain on the floor for two days before she figured out how to let us know).
She already had a cat and a dog when she lived alone, so we moved them in with our two cats and two dogs. Mostly things have worked out great, we have a big house and the cats can get away from each other when they need to! (dogs are pack animals so they snuggled right in for the most part)
That said, there are some things that you really should know before you decide to jump in and get a pet for your Alzheimers or dementia parent!
Have They Loved Pets In The Past?
Let's start with their history with pets. Sometimes we think that something that will give us comfort will help our suffering parents, but since animals are living beings, we need to make sure that getting one is a good idea all around.
Did your parent have a pet themselves in the past? Not just the memory of one as a child, but in their adulthood before they got sick?
If the idea of a pet is a totally new concept, I would pass for sure. You don't know how they will react to having an animal living with them all the time will help or hurt, and it isn't fair to put a dog or a cat in that kind of situation!
How Far Along Are They In Their Illness?
My Mom has pretty significant wet brain Dementia, so she is really not able to care for a pet. At least every few days she mentions that she should feed the dog (ack, poor thing seems so happy to eat and poops in the house… I am sure he wasn't being cared for that well when she lived alone!)
If your loved one is severely incapacitated, I would say for sure no pet! There are other options like this super cool Bo The Beagle companion pet if you think having an animal “companion” will help. He smells like lavender and is a soft and furry stuffed dog!
If your loved one is super determined to get a dog, but you still can't really swing it, this might be a good place to try!
Problems With Alzheimers and Dementia Parents Having Pets
I KNOW, this is starting to seem like I am totally a downer about letting them have a pet, but I have lived some things now that are pretty significant so I want to let you know beforehand!
If your loved one repeating things over and over again bothers you, do not get a dog (a cat may be okay, they never come when they are called!)
Both my mother-in-law and some of the people in groups I am in have a tendency to want the animal right by them at all times, calling them over an over again all day long. She also wants to know where he is and will screech at him the minute he jumps off her lap.
Jealous Of Attention
Another part of this is that we have kids and her dog is a young dog. He loves running around and playing with the kids, but this makes Mom jealous. She thinks her little guy should sit on her lap all day long which is not really practical for a spirited, just out of puppyhood dog.
If your parent lives alone, there is a good chance that they will forget to feed the pet. Based on things that I have seen, I feel like food and water was pretty sporadic before they moved in with us.
So, if your loved one is taking on a new pet, you should plan on being the one to feed them on a regular basis, and let their efforts be a “bonus” much like if you had a child with a pet.
This is one I see with my own eyes, but I also hear A LOT about in the groups. Because our loved ones aren't always that hungry, they will “share” their food with the pets.
This can result in digestive or weight problems with the animals and should be monitored and managed.
This is more for dogs (although you will probably have some litter box issues too if you get a cat).
Dogs generally have to be let out numerous times a day and unless your loved one is super mobile, that will fall to someone else in the household (it falls to me!)
Mom had “potty papers” in her house that she kinda sorta trained her dog to use so his bathroom habits are horrible. They have gotten a wee bit better as he has the other dogs go outside to pee and poop, but the struggle is real!
Worried About the Cats Getting Out
Last but not least is a cat problem, both if you have just cats or if you have both cats and dogs. If your loved one has an indoor cat, they aren't always aware of doors left open and cats escaping.
If we leave Mom home alone for even a few minutes, we lock the cats up in a bedroom in case she opens a door to the outside and accidentally leaves it open. Finding them and corralling them takes time, but a lot less time and heartbreak than if we had to scour the neighborhood chasing down a lost kitty!
Benefits of a Cats or Dogs for Dementia patients
Okay, now let's talk about the benefits of having a pet for our loved ones!
Something To Love and Talk To
Mom's little dog gives her so much comfort. He spends most of the day laying with her and keeping her company. Her cat definitely likes her best and is a frequent visitor to her room (I hear her in there chatting with the cat quite often).
Who can argue with the unconditional love that an animal brings to someone who is hurting or in pain!
Taking On Walks
Also, she is motivated to “walk the dog” (we walk him, she comes too!) This gets her up, dressed and out of the house. Now, we are walking 6 houses down and back so this isn't a HUGE walk, but anything we can do to keep her mobile is a blessing.
Just a word of caution on this one, a pulling and tugging dog can knock your loved one over, best if you hold the dog and let them manage themselves!
He Gets Her Moving
Mom is pretty sedentary but if her dog is missing, that woman can move. She will scoot around the house with her walker looking for him and scoop him up as soon as she finds him!
Getting Your Alzheimers or Dementia Parent A Pet Wrapup
Mom's little guy is really a doll-baby and we are so happy he lives with us now, and that we can help keep him AND Mom safe and secure.
If you are thinking about buying a pet for your parent, please know it is for life. You can't just get a pet and then dump them in a pound when something happens. Take it slow and make sure it is a good decision for your family!
We love our fur babies and are happy to have them around us all the time and you might have that kind of love too!