Pet Therapy for Dementia Patients: Finding Animal Companions

Loved ones with dementia can go through a lot emotionally. Anxiety and depression are commonplace and can be difficult to ease. That’s why pet therapy is such a popular choice for those with dementia. Pets not only promote physical activity but can boost moods and ease stress.

Let’s discuss the benefits of pet therapy, what you should consider before committing to a pet, and which animals are the best companions.


8 Benefits of Pet Therapy for Dementia Patients

1. Improve Self-Esteem and Confidence

Taking care of a pet who reciprocates with unbound affection and loyalty can give your loved one with dementia a sense of purpose. Caring for someone else who depends on them can also be empowering, especially if they feel that they’re usually the ones needing to be taken care of.

2. Provide Excitement and Energy to Their Day

There’s a difference between an empty home and one that has a pet who’s ready to spend all of their time with you. They bring energy and excitement to each and every day through affection, their needs, and their behavior. 

3. Decreased Feelings of Sadness and Anxiety

Pets have a way of working past the sadness and anxiety that often accompanies dementia, bringing joy into everyday life. They provide unconditional love and affection, which can be helpful in breaking through emotional obstacles. 

4. Reduced Agitation and Aggression

Agitation and aggression are common in people with dementia. There have been multiple studies that show that time spent with pets increases serotonin levels while decreasing the main stress hormone, cortisol. Just the simple act of petting a dog can reduce agitation and aggression. 

5. More Social Interaction

It’s been found that animal-assisted therapy boosts social interaction with others for people with dementia. After all, who doesn’t want to stop and say hello to a cute pet?

6. More Physical Activity

Taking care of a pet requires a consistent level of physical activity every day. From feeding them to playing with them to even taking them out for walks, they offer an excellent reason to get off the couch. 

7. Encourage Independence

Pets are a strong motivation to stay active. They provide simple and consistent tasks to accomplish every day, keeping your loved one with dementia stay engaged in their daily life. 

8. Promote Routines

People with dementia generally find comfort in familiar routines, and having a pet can promote that. Pets depend on regular walks, feeding times, and grooming sessions. They’ll also remind their owner when it’s time for their activities, which will keep their owner up with their schedule. 

Considerations Before Getting a Pet for Your Loved One With Dementia

There are so many benefits to getting a pet for your loved one with dementia. However, it’s essential to make sure that it’s a viable option that’s safe for both the pet and your loved one. 

Before you commit to getting a pet, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Will the animal be properly taken care of?
  • Is full pet ownership the best option, or would pet cafes, zoo visits, and other semi-regular types of interactions be better?
  • Are there more suitable alternatives, such as robotic pets, stuffed animals, or something similar?
  • What will happen to the animal if the person with dementia is no longer able to care for it?
  • Is the animal well-trained?
  • Is the animal up-to-date on its shots?
  •  Will it require any special medical care?

Best Types of Pets for Dementia Patients


Dogs are one of the most popular pets for people everywhere and of every age group. This includes people with dementia. Dogs have unrivaled energy and enthusiasm, having the ability to greatly decrease loneliness. They also promote socialization with other dog lovers.

The drawback of a dog as a pet is that they are one of the most active options, which can prove difficult for those with mobility issues. 


dementia and pets - senior woman with cat

Cats are an excellent option for a pet for your loved one with dementia. They are affectionate and amusing in their behavior, while at the same time being a little more independent than a dog. Because of this, they’ll require less attention and supervision. They are also fairly clean, as they can easily be trained to use litter boxes.

The cons of cats as pets is that they do not promote as much exercise, as they don’t require walks. They can also be a little more aloof, which could be a pro or con, depending on your loved one’s lifestyle. 


Birds can be great companions, with a wide range of types that vary in how much caretaking they require. For example, smaller birds, like canaries and finches, can thrive in a cage and benefit their owners through their singing with minimal caretaking responsibilities. Others, like parakeets or cockatiels, require a little more care. However, they can be taught to speak and offer amusement in their playful behavior.

The downside to a bird as a pet is that they can be very messy and loud. Choosing the right type of bird for your loved one is essential to ensuring they fit seamlessly into their life. 


Hamsters are one of the best choices as a pet for your loved one with dementia if they have limited space. Hamsters are happy to mostly roam their cage, making it amusing to watch them climb their way through tunnels or exercise on their wheel. Putting together the cage with your loved one could even be a fun project in itself.

Because hamsters mostly stay in their cage, they are less affectionate and don’t promote activeness as much as some of the other pet options. 


Fish are a great lower-maintenance pet option for your loved one with dementia, especially if they are allergic to animal fur. Watching colorful fish swim around can bring a sense of calm and relieve stress. They will just need to have their tank set up for their optimal conditions and maintain it regularly.

Similar to the hamster, fish are low maintenance and also low affection. A fish won’t offer affection or a lot of interaction like some of the other options available.  

Pets of Terra Vista

At Terra Vista, it’s our number one priority to ensure that your loved one with dementia feels like they’re not only right at home, but also excited for each day. We have cats and dogs who love to sit on laps, and we receive pets who will visit each and every resident for ear scratches and trot around our beautiful Innerwalk™ with our residents for some exercise.

When your loved one calls Terra Vista home,  they become a member of our tight–knit family. We are completely committed to providing them with unrivaled care, a safe environment, and activities to ensure that each day is full of joy.

Terra Vista is proudly partnered with Memory Care Corp.

If you’re interested in learning more about other memory therapy services we offer, call us at 630-793-0753, or contact us online.

Natalie Pic

Meet the Author


Natalie has compiled over eighteen years experience providing outstanding care to people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition to being a certified Alzheimer’s and dementia care trainer, McFarland is a licensed continued education instructor for nurses and social workers through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations. She has also developed several Alzheimer’s research partnerships. Included in those projects were Dr. Virginia Cruz, Ph.D., RN, Associate Professor of SIUE and Dr. George Grossberg, M.D., Medical Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Saint Louis University. Natalie is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.