Free article: Animal companions

Published: Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Joanne Balmer looks at the benefits of pets in the care sector.


  • The benefits of pets in the care sector include: improving residents’ mental and physical wellbeing, and providing greater agency and purpose.
  • Residents can bring their private pets into the care home, or team members can introduce animals for all residents to interact with.
  • Pets provide mental stimulation, as well as companionship and company.
  • There is also evidence that they reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and improve sleeping patterns

In their mission to foster environments that allow residents to live happy, active and fulfilled lives, care homes should welcome pets for the happiness and joy that they bring, and the health benefits associated with this.

Benefits of pets in the care sector

Making pets a central feature of the care sector brings a range of important benefits, including giving residents an enhanced sense of agency and purpose, and improving overall wellbeing.

Animals provide joy, company and companionship to residents, and make the environment feel more home-like, something that is vital as people make the transition away from their own homes.

The organisation Pets as Therapy (PAT) emphasises the positive impact that animals can have on people with mental and physical health conditions, and the role that they can play as part of a holistic approach to living well.

These benefits have a firm scientific grounding behind them, with the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) pointing to the reduced blood pressure and anxiety that can result from spending time with pets, and the improvement to social interaction and sleeping patterns that can be observed.

It is for these reasons, both physical and psychological, that Sunrise Senior Living has welcomed pets of all shapes and colours over the years, in its care homes across the UK. As Senior Director of Care and Quality at Sunrise, it is my job to ensure the highest standards of care across all of our communities, and there is no doubt that animals form an integral part of achieving this.

Case studies

At Sunrise of Tettenhall, there are a wide range of pets in residence, including Bella, who is an officially recognised PAT dog, and joins residents for their after-lunch walk in the gardens every day.

Given the large number of pets at the home, team members have set up a dedicated “Pets’ Corner”, which is frequented by two gold fish and a rescue rabbit, along with Bella. All pets have a routine in place for feeding, cleaning, and regular vet check-ups, providing an established framework for the animals that play a positive role in the lives of residents on a day-to-day basis.

Residents, team members, and visitors are able to spend time with pets in the lounge, or prepare for highlights like the Annual Dog Show held at the care home.

According to Geraldine Bunning, Activities Coordinator at Sunrise of Tettenhall, pets have a vital role in offering residents company, and often become the main focus of a resident’s stay at Sunrise, filling their days with additional purpose.

Geraldine has observed the greater agency that pets give residents over their lives, and the confidence that they bring in encouraging communication with others. With a very real danger of growing isolation and separation in a care home, animals provide friendship, and foster a desire among residents to continue engaging with the social world around them.

Interaction with animals is not only a central part of life within Sunrise communities, but also outside of them, when residents are taken on trips by team members. At Sunrise of Tettenhall, for example, Geraldine took residents to visit ducklings in their farm pond, where they moved after initially developing in paddling pools at Sunrise. Such trips provide a talking point for many weeks to come.

At Sunrise of Esher, it is cats that have come to enhance the lives of residents, and produce greater feelings of fulfilment. Margaret, the Activities Co-ordinator at Esher, describes how the cats enjoy cuddling with residents, and spend a lot of time in their warm rooms.

In many cases, the encouragement of pets is led by the residents themselves. Catherine Heaney, a resident at Esher, shares her black and white cat Huffy with anyone that visits her. Having received Huffy as a kitten 18 years ago, Catherine has developed a strong relationship with him, and says that the act of having someone to look after makes a huge difference to her feeling of purpose.

Sunrise of Banstead provides an example of a care home in which residents, staff and the local community have come together to make pets a cherished feature of living. The friends and family of residents bring in their dogs on a daily basis, who join the community’s PAT dog, Lassie. There is a long tradition of residents bringing their own pets to stay with them in their private suites, and animals have included cats, dogs, goldfish and birds.

Tamara Juckes, Activities Co-ordinator at Sunrise of Banstead, highlights the companionship that pets bring to older people, as well as the mental stimulation that they provide. She is particularly enthusiastic about the therapy that they can offer to those living with depression and anxiety.


Enhancing the role of pets in the care sector is crucial for increasing both the mental and physical wellbeing of residents, and providing an added sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Whether it be Pets as Therapy dogs, cats, or another kind of animal, pets give residents something to care for and interact with, and generate feelings of happiness, companionship and company.

On visiting Sunrise communities throughout the country, I have witnessed the vast array of pets brought into each home, and the way that animals have an overwhelmingly positive and uplifting impact on residents. From Tettenhall to Esher to Banstead, pets have become an integral part of social life, and are at the heart of residents’ fulfilment.

Not only do pets provide a point of friendship in their own right, but they enhance the engagement of older people with their surrounding environment, and increase overall levels of social interaction.

It is for these reasons that we will continue to cherish and welcome pets at Sunrise Senior Living, and do all we can to encourage the care sector as a whole to make animals a central part of its work.

Further information

About the author

Joanne Balmer MBA, BSc, RN, DipHE is Senior Director of Care and Quality at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, responsible for ensuring Sunrise and Gracewell care homes exceed CQC requirements, as well as for governance, regulation, and quality improvement. She has held senior clinical governance roles at a number of national care providers and specialises in Change Management and Clinical Leadership.

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