The Scottish Labour Party this week launched a campaign for a ‘paws clause’ that would guarantee owners can keep their pets if they move into a care home or supported housing.
"Whether it is having limited choices in rented accommodation, moving into a care home or sheltered housing, or seeking temporary accommodation for the homeless, all of these people should have the right to keep their beloved pets by their side," said labour MSP Claudia Beamish.
If the campaign is successful, it will become the norm for elderly pet owners in Scotland to take their pets with them when moving to a care facility.
If you're helping an elderly person move into a care home and they have a pet insurance policy make sure their details are up to date.
If you are considering buying a policy be aware that insurance companies may only be able to deal with the policyholder, who should also be the pet's owner. Some companies may not be able to accept third-party payments on behalf of the policyholder unless the person is so vulnerable a court has appointed someone to manage their assets.
Check out our guide to the best pet insurance policies for dogs.
Do care homes in the UK allow elderly people to live with their pets?
Thousands of care and nursing homes do allow elderly people to live with their pets.
However, a 2016 study by UK charity Blue Cross found the definition of 'pet-friendly' varied significantly across care homes.
In some facilities, pet-friendly meant owners' pets were allowed to visit whereas in others it meant staff were allowed to bring their pets to work or the care home simply had a fish tank.
The charity called for care homes to be more transparent about their pet policies.
Diane James from the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service told us: "Calls from older people forced to give up their pet because they are going into a care home are heartbreaking. At an already difficult time for many older people, losing their pet can be seriously traumatic for them.”
List of UK care homes that accept pets
Despite the different approaches to pets taken by care homes, Averil Jarvis MBE, chief executive of The Cinnamon Trust, the only UK charity for the elderly, terminally ill people and their pets, is positive about the capacity of UK care homes to accommodate owners and their pets.
She told Bought By Many: "There are lots of care homes and sheltered schemes for the elderly that will accept pets – over 1,000 on our register – and more and more homes are doing it brilliantly."
Jarvis gave us a list of the some of the best options for elderly people and their pets.
The Cinnamon Trust's role-model pet-friendly support accommodations of 2015/16
- The Old Vicarage – Sherborne, Dorset
- Sunrise of Southbourne – Bournemouth, Dorset
- Neuadd Drymmau – Neath, Glamorgan
- Venville House – Yelverton, Devon
- Avalon Care Home – Southport, Merseyside
The Cinnamon Trust's top 5 pet-friendly retirement complexes
- Bishops Court – Teignmouth, Devon
- Walpole Court – Puddletown, Dorset
- Dornden Gardens – Chatham, Kent
- The Ropewalk – Bradford-On-Avon, Wiltshire
- Sydney Hall Court – Connahs Quay, Deeside
The website Carehome.co.uk also has a list of over 7,000 UK care and nursing homes that say they are pet-friendly. However, you will need to contact the home to find out exactly what they mean by that.
Jarvis says people need to deal with care homes on a one-to-one basis in order to assess exactly how pet-friendly a home would be and how suitable it is. People can contact The Cinnamon Trust to access its list of pet-friendly homes.
She warns against a one-size-fits-all approach, saying she fears a law to make older pet owners moving to supported housing with their pets the norm might cause problems because pets may end up in places that are not suitable for them.
What makes a good pet-friendly care or nursing home?
Jarvis believes that whether a home is truly pet-friendly or not is down to the management and the resources they have.
"If they are into pets, they foster an atmosphere where everyone joins in. You have to be a little bit careful that facilities are able to give cats and dogs a proper life. If owners can move with their pets in the right environment then that’s perfect but if not, it can be an absolute minefield," she says.
The best way to determine whether a care home, shelter scheme or retirement facility is the right place for an older pet owner is by visiting the homes, speaking to the staff and getting a sense of the residents' attitude towards animals.
The Cinnamon Trust can provide owners with information about pet-friendly care facilities in their counties. They assess homes every two years and maintain a register of pet-friendly care homes around the UK. You can contact them on 01736 757900.
If a care facility allows pets to move in with owners, it will have the responsibility to ensure that the pet and owner will be able to lead a normal life, so it is important to assess this upon a visit.
Jarvis suggests a few things to check: "Is there green space, are there nearby areas where dogs can run free, is there a fenced garden where a dog can go for a quick pee at night, would the pets be confined to the owners' rooms or be allowed to mingle with everybody and be part of the home – is this really a home for them?
"What happens if a pet falls ill, will the staff help with that, what happens when they die? Everything your pet can do at home, it needs to be able to do in your new home."
What to do if an elderly person cannot look after their pet?
If a pet owner cannot keep their pet with them when moving to a home, the Blue Cross and Cinnamon Trust can offer support.
Both charities rehome pets of elderly people and match them with new loving families. The Blue Cross also has a Pet Bereavement Support Service. The charity told us they "help many people grieving the loss of a pet because they’ve gone into care".
The Cinnamon Trust might even be able to help owners stay in touch with their pets, provide updates on how the pet is doing, send pictures or arrange visits.
What care homes can do to ensure a pet and its owner are happy
The Blue Cross has created a checklist for care homes or residential care to help facilities create pet policies and ensure they have the resources to give owners and their pets a good home.
They also encourage homes to be clear on their requirements and the criteria a pet and an owner need to meet before being allowed to move into a facility together.
The Blue Cross says facilities should provide resident pets with the five freedoms outlined in the Animal Welfare Act 2006: appropriate diet, suitable living environment, ability to exhibit natural behaviours, the need to be housed with or apart from other animals, and protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
It is also important to determine whether an owner is capable of looking after their pet and how they could support the owner if he or she became too ill to care for the pet.
Furthermore, the charity advises homes and housing facilities unable to accept residents with their pet animals to clearly indicate so on their websites and in public materials in order to help pet owners make an informed decision.
The benefits of pets in supported housing and care homes
Having a pet can give people a reason to stick to a daily routine, it can help with feelings of isolation and loneliness, and relieve the stress of moving into a new environment, according to The Cinnamon Trust.
In addition, Diane James from Blue Cross told us that “nothing compares to the companionship our pets give us, and for many elderly people their pet is their lifeline. Caring for an animal helps reduce feelings of loneliness, improves mood and encourages socialisation, so losing one can be devastating."