A senior woman and a cat.
A senior woman and a cat. Photography by Alena Brozova / Shutterstock.

Long-Term Care for Elders and Pets

Today, a growing number of care facilities for seniors is allowing residents to bring their beloved pets. Here's how you can find such a place for a family member.


Lunch service is over and Mr. M collects some leftovers to share with his companion, Sissy. He does this every day, after each meal, because Sissy can’t come to the dining room. Mr. M takes care of Sissy, and they enjoy their daily walks together. Through these activities, Sissy also helps Mr. M to feel happy and loved. Mr. M and Sissy — a plump black Chihuahua mix — both reside at Pine Grove Nursing Center deep in the heart of the east Texas piney woods in Center, TX.

Pine Grove has another furry friend, Precious, who visits twice a week with her owner, Kellie Baty, who is the community’s beautician. Precious — a personable Boston terrier — sits in a chair and visits with the residents who sometimes paint her nails. Precious makes special visits to the residents who don’t leave their rooms on a regular basis, or those who weren’t able to make it to the beauty shop that week.

According to Julie Harbison, Pine Grove’s administrator: “There is a grieving process with residents who have had to leave their home, whether long-term or short-term, and they don’t have their animal companions anymore. It’s so nice that we can have the pets here.”

The importance of pets
Photography by Voronin76 / Shutterstock.
Let’s talk about the importance of long-term care for elders and pets. Photography by Voronin76 / Shutterstock.

For many senior citizens and their families, the transition to a care facility is emotionally stressful in itself — but a strong bond with a pet can add significant worry concerning the future of the pet. Sometimes, a necessary move is delayed when a pet is involved. That emotional strain is being lifted by an ever-increasing number of senior living communities that allow companion animals. According to A Place for Mom — the nation’s largest senior living referral service — approximately 40 percent of the people who call are specifically asking about pet policies.

According to the CDC, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities (known as long-term care facilities) provide a variety of services, including medical and personal care to those individuals who can no longer independently care for themselves. Annually, about one million people live in assisted living facilities and more than four million reside in, or are admitted to, skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes.

Elder care is evolving

Over the past 20 years, there’s been a cultural change toward a person-centered model of care for our elders. The acceptance of fur, feathers and fins in the nursing home setting has been a major part of that change. The use of animal-assisted therapies, along with visits by therapy animals, pets on staff and personal pets are now accepted as an integral part of the individual’s overall health and well-being.

Residential care facilities understand the importance of pets and, according to the 2010 CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities (the first of its kind), 39 percent of them had residential pets that include dogs, cats and birds on staff for the residents. The survey also cites that 54 percent of residential facilities allowed residents to bring their personal pets.

The most common pets are primarily dogs, cats, birds and fish. Not all care facilities accept pets, however, and requirements vary among those that do. Among some of the most common requirements are:

-The limit to the number of pets an individual may have (usually that number is two). Be aware, however, some places also have breed and size restrictions.

-The individual must be able to care for the pet and have a back-up care plan in the event they are no longer able to care for the pet. Some places have Pet Care Coordinators, but do your homework ahead of time to avoid a disappointing surprise.

-The resident must be financially able to provide food and veterinary care.

-The pet must be current on vaccinations.

-Often, a pet deposit is required.

-The pet must meet guidelines of weight, behavior, age, size, breed and other possible restrictions.

As the number of pet-friendly residential care communities continues to grow, there are some communities where animals are more than just accepted — they are required. For example, at the Eden Alternative and Silverado communities, animals are a core part of their philosophy of care. Some of their staff animals include pot-bellied pigs, a baby kangaroo, rabbits, small horses and llamas. Residential care facilities incorporate caring for the animals — whether staff pets or personal pets — as part of the resident’s treatment plan.

Pets act as motivators

Care providers see benefits including improved mood, reduced anxiety and a desire to get well faster. “I can’t tell you how many times when a resident has come in here for physical therapy that I’ve heard them say they have to get back home to their dog or cat. They say they have someone looking after the pet but they always emphasize, ‘I have to get back home to take care of my babies!’ The biggest motivator is their pets,” says Harbison. “We have always tried to be very open about people bringing in their pets for visits, if they have one at home. We haven’t had a bad experience yet.”

Finding pet-friendly places

There are a number of websites that can be searched for pet-friendly nursing homes or assisted living communities (see resources listed on page 4). Once you’ve narrowed down a few candidates, Harbison advises: “Stay local if that’s possible and always visit the community in person, no matter where it is. If pet-friendly is extremely impotant to you, an in-person visit can’t be beat.”

Pets enhance physical health and emotional well-being, contributing to higher quality of life; this is especially important for elders who face loneliness, isolation and depression. As more health studies show the positive health benefits of pet companionship, it’s likely more long-term care facilities will become pet-friendly in the future.
— Ramona Marek, MS Ed.

Thumbnail: Photography by Alena Brozova / Shutterstock.

Enjoyed this article? Subscribe to Catnip for more articles like this >>

20 thoughts on “Long-Term Care for Elders and Pets”

  1. I am certain that my late mom’s dog contributed to her living till the age of 92 in spite of lung cancer and congestive heart failure. She just HAD to hang on to take care of her little Boo-boo.

    I have now been looking into seniors’ affordable housing places for myself for some time, but the one I really set my sights on refused to accept my pet cat! I had a real letter-writing campaign going, even speaking to the head of the governing board of the residence I wanted, but they wouldn’t budge. “No pets allowed.” I even cited statistics showing how pets kept their owners healthier, and less lonely and depressed! No go. I hope this changes for all such residences soon!!

  2. I believe many of us Cat Ladies care for more than two cats. I can’t get an answer. If you have more than two, and you are moved to A Place… what happens to the rest?

    I know my local Sanctuary has a contract they offer in advance. I hope everyone makes plans for their little ones!! Yup, mine are in my will.

    1. It’s not quite that formalized, but part of my burial policy deal with my bff is that if I predecease her (she’s the beneficiary) she’ll appropriately rehome any furry bbs I have at that point. (I currently have two indoor-outdoor rescues and one who’s primarily outdoors.)

  3. Where is the “Silverado” community that’s mentioned? My aunt is in a facility called Silverado and they have animals there and it’s amazing!!

  4. I would love to help out seniors at nursing homes, who may need their pets walked or veterinary visits. Wondering how I would go about doing that?

    1. Hi Margaret,
      We suggest reaching out to your local retirement and or nursing homes. This article might be helpful, too: https://www.catster.com/the-scoop/how-nursing-homes-with-cats-are-helping-kittens-and-residents-alike

  5. I agree that pets should be allowed in personal care homes with their owners. It would destroy my wanting to live if I had to leave my devoted, loving cat behind. It is just as hard on the pets as it is to their owner to be separated.

  6. We have 3 rescued cats. While sometimes its difficult to scrape together enough money from our social security checks to pay for the food and care of our fur babies – every dime is worth it’s weight in gold. The hours of companionship and love they give in return is not measurable. Every early morning, rain or shine, you will find me in a recliner with Charley (a yellow tom) cuddled in my lap like an infant purring away…Kenzi, an F6 Savannah is on a nearby table happily munching on treats and gazing out the front window and finally Elektra the alpha female is on the top of the recliner murmuring into my ears. No better way to start a day. My husband is in the kitchen preparing breakfast – :>) Perfect division of responsibilities!

  7. I’m 60 years old. I have 3 cats, (all boys), who range in age from 3 yrs, to 8 yrs. old. I am disabled, and on Social Security. I worry, and am concerned, that I can afford, to maintain the health of my cats, or myself. So – I’m mindful, of trying to take better care of my self, so that I can keep my babies, until they cross over the Rainbow Bridge, with me by their side. It’s a promise I’ve made to them.

      1. If there’s somebody who you would trust to make that decision, they do make “My Cats Are Home Alone” type stuff (my house keychain has a bright pink one with my bff’s number), but yeah, if you DON’T have a pet emergency contact that’s scary.

  8. Even more importantly the government should give some money to an animal shelter to help provide the housing, food and medicine, etc. they give to so many unfortunate animals, but the governments of many towns and cities do not. These shelters instead are completely reliant on private donations from us citizens and many of our animals loving owners do not know that the shelters need the donations so greatly because of severe lack of money.

    1. Great idea. I’m in total agreement with you. But where would the government get that money to pay for this? Through increased taxes on everyone, including you. Means more money coming out of your and my paychecks… less take home pay. Or we can donate money to shelters where we determine the amount of the donation. Which would you prefer? Just sayin.. Something to think about for our beloved pets.

    2. Great idea. I’m in total agreement with you. But where would the government get that money to pay for this? Through increased taxes on everyone, including you. Means more money coming out of your and my paychecks… less take home pay. Or we can donate money to shelters where we determine the amount of the donation. Which would you prefer? Just sayin.. Something to think about for our beloved pets.

  9. I am not in a Senior Housing Facility, but am a adamant cat lover. I don’t know what I’d do without my sweet Snuggles. She is such a joy to have living here and a wonderful housemate too. She’s going on 10 years old and I have to keep an eye on her health as well as my own (I’m 66 yrs old). She’s a bundle of love!

  10. this is a great article! more senior residences should consider pets as residents too. it does help a senior to transition when they can take their pets. also, since pets are so much a part of our lives, WHY cant the govt see that, and allow us deductions for pets; we care for them same as kids, but yet cant reap the benefits of tax deductions!! not fair.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.

Let Catster answer all of your most baffling feline questions!

Starting at just


Follow Us

Shopping Cart