Animal Therapy Programs: A Growing Trend in Senior Living Communities

Recently we talked about the benefits of pets for the elderly and the benefits of service dogs for seniors who have a disability, such as vision or hearing impairment. As more senior living communities are recognizing the power that animals have in lifting seniors’ spirits and providing a sense of companionship, more communities are partnering with pet therapy (sometimes called animal therapy) programs to bring a little sunshine to their residents’ days.

How Therapy Dog Visits Work

Therapy Dogs International is one such program that helps senior living communities bring pet therapy programs to their residents. According to Therapy Dog International, dog visits are typically organized based on residents’ capabilities, either as group activities or individual visits to a resident’s room or apartment. Therapy Dog International provides pet therapy services in senior living communities across the United States. “As a recreational activity, Therapy Dogs and their handlers typically visit in a designated public area at a specific time that is agreed upon beforehand. Residents stop by to visit with the dog teams unless they are unable to do so. If that is the case, the dog teams might then visit the residents in their rooms or apartments instead of the public area.”

These weekly visits from furry, four-legged friends are often a much-anticipated event by residents, sometimes even the highlight of the week. Therapy Dogs often bring back memories of residents’ own pets, allowing them the opportunity to reminisce about the pets they once shared their lives with. These visits can be the catalyst to conversations in which residents share joyful memories with one another and tell stories about their own beloved pets, whether it be their crazy antics, their loveable nature, or the quirky personality traits that allow our pets to leave a paw print on our hearts forever.

Nursing Homes Among the First Communities to Embrace Pet Therapy

According to, Pet Therapy International first introduced the concept of Pet Therapy three decades ago, and nursing homes embraced the idea as a life-enriching activity for residents. Therapy dogs provide interactive, stimulating activities that break up typical, day-to-day routines and can even elicit responses from residents who are otherwise withdrawn and have limited abilities.

“Therapy Dogs provide an opportunity for nursing home seniors to give and receive physical touch, display affection, and raise their spirits. Petting, stroking and ‘playing’ with a pet can provide physical activity to non-active senior residents as well as a distraction to reduce the frustration and agitation that comes with limiting abilities as one ages. Animal assisted therapy can transform senior residents into calm state and reduce them from escalating into aggressive interaction with staff and others,” explains

Today, of course, pet therapy programs have become the norm and senior living communities across the nation are taking advantage of the opportunity to provide residents with a heart-warming, enriching experience that’s enjoyable for all. In an upcoming blog post, we’ll profile one senior living provider that has developed a unique pet therapy program for its residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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