BACKGROUND: Pets play very important roles for older adults. However, whether the same roles apply to pets of care clients receiving long-term care at home (LTCH) is unclear. This study aimed primarily to explore whether the roles of pets for LTCH-clients who own pets are comparable to the roles of pets for older adults in the general population. Furthermore, we explored potential pet-related problems that might be encountered in LTCH in practice, and the potential influences of pet ownership on caregiving relationships. These insights may help improve long-term care services in LTCH.
METHODS: This project started with a study using the Consensual Qualitative Research method (CQR). We conducted semi-structured interviews based on themes from our previous review (e.g., Relational Aspects, Emotional Aspects, and Social Aspects). Secondly, an online survey was used to confirm the findings from the CQR study by calculating Content Validity Index scores (in SPSS 26) regarding contents, relevance, and clarity. The survey also included open-ended questions on potential pet-related problems and their impact on caregiving relationships for LTCH-clients, family caregivers, and professional caregivers.
RESULTS: The CQR study found that the roles pets play for LTCH-clients (N = 8), family caregivers (N = 10), and professional caregivers (N = 10) were similar to the roles pets play for older adults in the general population. The online survey confirmed most of the CQR findings. In the survey, LTCH-clients (N = 4), family caregivers (N = 8), professional caregivers (N = 8), and researchers in human-animal studies and in geriatric care (N = 5) reported various potential problems that could arise from pet ownership by LTCH-clients, such as clients with deteriorating health being forced to part with their pets. Participants also reported potential positive and negative effects of pet ownership on caregiving relationships, such as pets being a nice topic of conversation, or, conversely, a source of disagreement in the LTCH context.
CONCLUSIONS: The roles pets play for LTCH-clients seem comparable to the roles pets play for older adults in the general population. In addition, LTCH-clients might experience pet-related problems specific to the LTCH context. Pets may influence caregiving relationships, either positively or negatively. Therefore, instruments and guidelines are needed to account for pets in LTCH.