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A Life without Pets

By Fiona De Rosa and Fiona Warton 

Elderly people may find themselves having to give up their pets when they move into a care facility © Grant Nowell Photography

As the aging population of the western world increases, more people are finding themselves moving from their own homes and into aged care accommodations. This can mean that companion animals get left behind, with the new living arrangements unable to accommodate pets.

At this time of life, it can be especially distressing for older people to leave not only their community and social networks, but their companion animals too. It is undoubtedly a less than ideal scenario, given that research shows companion animals can significantly enhance the physical and mental well-being of older people (Australian Companion Animal Council, 2009).

With the aging population, and the recognized health benefits of pets, there needs to be a more thorough exploration of these issues from both a human and animal perspective so the health, welfare and safety of both are considered.

To better appreciate these issues, we have developed a Checklist for Aged Care Providers: Residents Living-in with Their Pets to guide the planning, design and management of companion animals in aged care accommodation. This checklist is primarily for aged care providers, but can be used by architects, planners, designers and developers.

The Checklist

The Checklist for Aged Care Providers: Residents Living-In with their Pets identifies key issues that an aged care provider would need to consider including:

• Pet policy
• Pet application and pet agreement forms
• Health checks and behavioral assessments
• Environmental and design considerations
• Preventative health care
• Ongoing management
• Support pet services

The checklist is a guide only and aged care providers and other users would need to tailor both policy and practice to their specific environment.

Pet Policy

What is the pet policy (i.e. dogs and cats) in the aged care facility? “It was found that many of the retirement communities accepting pets were overly focused on size and breed restrictions to determine permissibility, despite the fact that little dogs can often be very energetic and noisy compared to some larger dogs,” said Dr. Gaille Perry, Delta (cited in Wood, 2009).

Following is an example of the Halcyon Retirement Community Pet Policy, Australia (Wood, 2009):

• Pets to be considered on a case-by-case basis
• A behavioral assessment of dogs to be undertaken by a qualified behavioral trainer
• Pets to be fully vaccinated
• Dogs to be de-sexed
• Dogs to be registered

Pet Application and Pet Agreement Forms

It is good practice to develop a pet application form and a pet agreement form.

A pet application form could include the following:

• Name, age, type and description of pet
• Vaccination information, council registration certificate, de-sexing certificate and microchip certificate
• Dog training certificates

A pet agreement form could outline the role and responsibilities of the pet guardian (the resident). The Australian Companion Animal Council (ACAC) developed a pet application and pet keeping agreement form for rental accommodation, which could be tailored for an aged care facility.

Health Checks and Behavioral Assessments

Pets should undertake a full health check by a vet prior to being accepted. Aged care providers may also like to develop a patient record or health card to detail any illness or ongoing issues that will require treatment or maintenance.

Undertake a behavioral assessment of all dogs prior to being accepted. A behavioral assessment should be undertaken by an appropriately qualified dog behavioral trainer.

This is an example of a behavioral assessment. The behavioral assessment should include temperament and social skills of the dog, including:

• Risk of injury to other animals and people
• Mental health of the animal
• Suitability of animal to specific environment (including public/private spaces)
• Behavior on lead
• Reactivity to noises, other animals, familiar and unfamiliar people

Environmental and Design Considerations

Consider the pet’s indoor and outdoor environments including:


• Suitability of pet size and type to the specific environment
• The existing space the pet uses and how this may vary from an aged care facility. Is it similar or different? How is it different? How will this impact on the pet’s transition to the new environment?
• Type, amount and quality of indoor/outdoor space for pet
• Availability of on and off-leash areas for dogs


• Private room layout to consider:
o Climbing opportunities, scratching poles and horizontal scratching surfaces, higher/vertical spaces for resting areas and warm areas for cats
o Adequate space for bedding and crates
o Dog/cat door to secure outdoor space
o Will you need to retrofit the private rooms to accommodate the pet’s needs? In the long-term, you may need to consider purpose built accommodation based on needs of resident and pet
• Access to safe and secure outdoor areas. Areas to have shade, shelter, access to water, and have no toxic or irritating plants in or near the area
• Consider secure off-leash areas for dogs and their guardians

Preventative Health Care

Develop minimum preventative health standards for all pets. The standards must include:


• Dogs must be vaccinated against parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza and bordetella, including annual boosters
• Intestinal worming every three month(due to zoonotic potential)
• Appropriate nutrition for life stage
• Heartworm preventative recommended
• Annual veterinary checks to check/review preventative healthcare plan, dental care and general physical health


• FIV testing for all cats to make sure they are negative, and history to make sure they are not likely to be a chronic carrier of respiratory disease
• Cats must be vaccinated against feline infectious enteritis (panleukopenia), feline calicivirus and feline viral rhinotracheitis, including annual boosters
• Intestinal worming every three month (due to zoonotic potential)
• Appropriate nutrition for life stage
• Annual veterinary checks to check/review preventative healthcare plan, dental care and general physical health.

All Animals

• Monthly flea control would need to be given to all animals to avoid the risk of an environmental flea issue developing with multiple animals living in the same environment.

It is recommended that, where possible, animals be on a combination or all-in-one monthly product for fleas, intestinal worms and heartworm. This type of product will increase compliance and simplify administration by giving all animals their dose at the beginning of each month.

Prepare a Plan for Contagious Diseases

It is necessary to have a plan for contagious diseases in place if one of the animals picks up a contagious disease, e.g. ringworm, canine cough or cat flu. This is unlikely but a plan of action should be in place just in case.
Consider whether the facility has the ability to isolate the animal until treatment is complete to limit any chance of spreading to other pets (or people if disease is zoonotic e.g. ringworm).

Ongoing Management

There are also some questions to consider in the day-to-day management of live-in pets (applies to cats and dogs).


• Who is responsible for the day-to-day management of the pet?
• Who manages the pet when the guardian is sick or unable to care for the animal?
• What arrangements are in place if the resident dies?
• Who is responsible for the daily exercise, feeding, medication, general care and grooming of the pet?
• Who is responsible for the waste
management (i.e. cleaning up of indoor and outdoor spaces)?

Day-to-Day Supervision

• Who will monitor the pet’s stress levels (e.g. initial transition to a new environment and long-term management)?
• Who is responsible for cleaning of pet bedding and pet areas?
• How will you manage feeding, overfeeding, inappropriate food for dogs or cats?

Behavior Issues

• How will behavior issues for dogs and cats (e.g. excessive barking, jumping up, inappropriate elimination) be managed?
• What is acceptable behavior for a dog or cat in this type of facility?

Support Services

It is recommended that aged care facilities develop a relationship with a local vet clinic that could care for the pets, and to ensure the preventative health care is kept up-to-date.

Consider other support services including:

• Dog behavioral trainer for behavior issues and/or veterinarian with behavior qualifications
• Grooming, bathing and nail clipping

The authors strongly recommend that aged care providers use dog trainers and support pet services that implement positive reinforcement, force-free training and pet care methods and practices.

Australian Companion Animal Council. (2009). The Power of Pets: The Benefits of Companion Animal Ownership
Australian Companion Animal Council. (n.d.). Pet Application Form and Pet Keeping Agreement Form
Wood, L. (Ed.). (2009). Living Well Together: How Companion Animals Can Strengthen Social Fabric. Petcare Information & Advisory Service and the Centre for the Built Environment and Health, the University of Western Australia

This article first appeared in BARKS from the Guild, May 2015, pp.40-42.

For more great content on all things animal behavior and training, you can sign up for a lifetime, free of charge, subscription to the digital edition of BARKS from the Guild. If you are already a subscriber, you can view the issue here.

About the Authors

Fiona De Rosa BTP (Hons) M Env St DipCBST is an urban planner and dog behavioral trainer. She is the owner and principal of Balancing Act (Pet Friendly Planning) a consultancy specializing in the integration of companion animals in urban environments. In 2014, she won the Planning Institute of Australia (SA) Award for Excellence for Cutting Edge Research and Teaching for her work in the planning and design of off-leash areas, in particular dog parks.

Dr. Fiona Warton
BVSc (Hons) MANZCVS (Veterinary Behavior) CMAVA holds a bachelor of veterinary science and a masters of veterinary behavioral medicine. In 2011, she attended the National American Veterinary Conference completing the behavioral medicine workshop with Karen Overall and Kersti Seksel as mentors. The following year, she gained membership, by examination, to the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in Veterinary Behavior. She currently works in general veterinary practice and carries out behavior consultations for companion animals.

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