Animals are wonderful companions during tough times. Studies show that simply petting or cuddling a dog can reduce your anxiety and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Plus, spending just thirty minutes with a dog can increase your dopamine and endorphin levels. Since there are so many benefits to spending time with animals, many organizations and professionals in the healthcare industry, including hospice care, are now exploring the use of pet therapy.
Spending time with animals can be a good way to help hospice care patients who are struggling with emotional or mental health problems. Animals can also help ease the process for patients who are making the transition into hospice care. Read on to learn more about the remarkable way our animal companions can help ease hardship during difficult times.
Types of Dogs who Visit Hospice Care Patients
There are several different types of dogs that typically spend time with hospice patients, including therapy and visiting dogs. Therapy dogs are trained by credentialed handlers who teach the animals how to interact with patients. These dogs are specifically used for therapy sessions with patients. These sessions also often include either a social worker or therapist.
Visiting dogs aren’t always certified therapy animals, but every dog is vetted by the hospice organization before they begin seeing patients. These dogs are able to simply provide comfort for hospice patients with their presence and propensity to share love. Visiting dogs often belong to one of the hospice care organization’s volunteers, with both the dog and the owner going through extensive training before they begin seeing patients.
Many hospice care organizations have a minimum age limit for visiting dogs, typically at least one year old. Dogs are expected to be well-behaved, walk well on a leash, and obey their handler. We also make sure that the dogs aren’t afraid of people who walk with canes or are in wheelchairs, and that the dog has all its required vaccines. And of course, the dog must be okay with being touched and handled by strangers.
Before they begin spending time with patients, visiting dogs are typically given a test. During this test, hospice care workers will see how dogs respond to situations that they may come up while they’re visiting patients. They’ll evaluate how well the dog walks on a leash, and they’ll also see how they react to encountering strangers. The organization may also test how well the dogs responds to other dogs. If the dog passes this test, the hospice care organization will then allow the dog and their handler to begin seeing patients.
Therapy and visiting dogs are both very well trained. Because of that, you can be assured any dog that’s spending time with your loved one will be well-behaved. The dog and their handler will also understand the best ways to interact with sick or elderly patients.
Who Benefits from Animal Therapy
Animal therapy can be extremely beneficial for animal lovers who are receiving hospice care. Hospice patients who are mobile can take animals for short walks to get exercise. The animals can also help patients feel more at home in the facility where they’re receiving hospice care.
Animal therapy can also be helpful for hospice care patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Animals can calm agitated patients and help them become more sociable. In one study, a therapy dog was introduced to a nursing home that housed patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout the four-week study, there were fewer behavioral problems noted in the home. Another study showed that Alzheimer’s patients who had pets in their home experienced fewer episodes of aggression and anxiety than patients with no pets.
Many patients receive their hospice care in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. Unfortunately, these patients usually have to leave their beloved pets with a friend or family member. These types of patients can benefit greatly from animal therapy. Having an animal visit them at their new home helps patients miss their four-legged friend a little less.
Animal therapy is also very helpful for more reserved patients. Many patients brighten considerably when a therapy or service animal visits them. They’ll begin chatting with the hospice care workers and volunteers about their childhood pets or pets they had when their kids were young. For animal-loving patients, having a service animal come visit is always a highlight of their day.
Benefits of Pets for In-home Hospice Care Patients
Pets can be just as helpful for patients who are getting their hospice care at home. If your loved one is homebound, their pet can give them comfort and companionship. Pets will help keep your loved one calm and relaxed, and they’ll help them feel less lonely throughout the day. If your loved one does not have a pet of their own, you can also arrange to have a therapy animal come visit them.
If your loved one needs help taking care of their pet, there are organizations throughout the United States that offer financial and physical assistance. There are organizations that will bring pet food to elderly or ill patients’ homes. Many of these organizations will also walk dogs or administer medication. Plus, the volunteers at these organizations will often spend time with your loved one, giving them another person to talk to during the day. These organizations will allow your loved one to keep their pet even when they are no longer mobile.
Animals and Hospice Care Patients
The transition into hospice care is a difficult time for patients and their loved ones. Animals can have amazing benefits for patients during this time. They can calm patients, lower their blood pressure, and help make patients more sociable. Animals also simply provide companionship and unconditional love. If your loved one has an affinity for animals, see if their hospice care organization has an animal therapy program. Animal therapy programs show how powerful the bond between animals and humans can be.
At Harbor Light Hospice, we offer a pet team program that uses volunteer pet owners and their certified pets. If you’re interested in learning more about this program or about any of the services we offer at Harbor Light Hospice, please contact us through our online form.