OBJECTIVE: Western countries face ageing populations and increasing numbers of older adults receiving long-term care at home (home care). Approximately 50% of households in Western countries own pets, and while pets impact the health and wellbeing of their owners, most healthcare organisations do not account for the role of pets in the lives of their clients. Due to the lack of research in older adults receiving home care that own pets, this study aimed to review previous qualitative research about the role and significance of pets for older adults in general.
METHOD: PubMed and PsycINFO were systematically searched with variations on (MeSH) terms for older adults (mean age 65 years and older), pets, and qualitative study designs. Iterative-inductive thematic analyses were performed in ATLAS.ti.
RESULTS: We included fifteen studies and extracted twenty-eight themes within seven categories: Relational Aspects, Reflection and Meaning, Emotional Aspects, Aspects of Caregiving, Physical Health, Social Aspects, and Bidirectional Behaviour. Older adults reported not only on positive aspects of pet ownership such as the emotional support their pets provided but also on negative aspects such as postponing personal medical treatment.
CONCLUSION: Older adults perceived pets as important for their health and wellbeing. This implies that care workers may be able to improve home care by accounting for the role of pets of older adults receiving home care. Based on our findings, we suggest that community healthcare organisations develop guidelines and tools for care workers to improve care at home for clients with pets.