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Research and Projects

Effects of animals on the health and wellbeing of residents in care homes

Theme: CLAHRC - Mental Health & Dementia
Status: Live

This review was led by the Evidence Synthesis Team.



More than a quarter of a million (291,000) people aged 65 and over were living in care homes in England and Wales in 2011, and over 59% of this population were aged 85 and older.  Moving from independent living to residential/nursing care is a key transition in an older person’s life and can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life.  A homelike environment is important to residents and the presence of animals or pets may contribute to a feeling of less institutionalised living.  There are care homes that allow residents to bring their pets with them (Cinnamon Trust), and there are also examples of pet visitation programmes to nursing/residential homes often provided by organisations such as Pets as Therapy and the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust.  Animals are also believed to be therapeutic and pet therapy or animal assisted therapy is one of the treatments recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) guidance for people with all types and severities of dementia experiencing agitation.  Although care homes may claim to be ‘pet friendly’, it is unclear what this means in practice and how actively care homes promote interaction with animals to enhance the health and wellbeing of their residents.  Furthermore, there may also be unintended harms or challenges of bringing animals into the care home setting which needs to be understood.

Whilst there have been a number of reviews addressing the impact of animals and pet therapy on the health and wellbeing of older people, these have not focused specifically on older residents living in residential/nursing care. This review will synthesise the available evidence on the impact of animals on those living in residential care and on care home life. 


Research questions

We will conduct a systematic review of quantitative and qualitative evidence to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the impacts (short-term and long-term) of animals on the physical and mental health, social wellbeing, medication use, and quality of life of older people living in residential/nursing care?

    1. What are older residents’ (including those with dementia) experiences of interacting with animals?

    2. What are the views of residential care staff on the impact of animals on residents and on care home life in general?

    3. What are the challenges for residents, families/carers and care home staff of involving animals in care homes?

  2. Are there different approaches or interventions (i.e. resident pets, pet visitation programmes, group or individual format, spontaneous or guided interactions, short- or long-term, robopets) that are particularly appropriate for different groups of residents (i.e. those who are cognitively intact and cognitively impaired, and those who are different stages of the dementia journey - early/mild, moderate or severe dementia)?

  3. What is known about the effects of human-animal interaction on the therapy/participating animal in care homes? 


Further information

For more information on this project, view the protocol here

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