How Senior Care Community Design is Changing to Become More Pet-Friendly

Natalie Ruiz

Natalie Ruiz, associate principal, CallisonRTKL

The presence of a pet can be reassuring, can provide comfort, and can even deliver some important health benefits. As more studies reveal the benefits of pets, senior care communities are increasingly adopting pet-friendly approaches. This pet-friendly stance requires a few design modifications, leading to more unique design requests when it comes to both renovation and new construction.

The Benefits of Pets in Senior Care

Pets can provide many valuable benefits in senior care settings, particularly because of their effects on mental and physical health. A 2002 study found that the presence of dogs corresponded with less agitation and fewer behavioral issues for Alzheimer’s patients.

According to News in Health, pets have been shown to help reduce the stress-related hormone, cortisol, and lower blood pressure in humans who interact with them. Studies have also proven that pets can boost mood, reduce loneliness, and help people to feel that they have social support.

Pet popularity is only growing, too. During the pandemic, pet ownership rose to an all-time high; in 2020, 70% of American households owned pets, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.

In addition to health benefits, pets can also provide an important consistency for residents who may be moving into a senior care setting. Many people see pets as family members, and a pet-friendly community that allows new residents to bring pets with them can avoid a painful separation.

Embracing Pet-Friendly Design

As we better understand the significance of pets and as more and more people have pets in their lives, it’s only natural that pets are becoming an important aspect of the senior living industry. More communities are embracing pet-friendly policies, and that often means design changes, too.

According to Natalie Ruiz, AIA, LEED, AP, NCARB, CDT, associate principal at CallisonRTKL, senior care communities that adopt a more pet-friendly approach see multiple benefits. “For residents, having a pet helps combat loneliness, increases social interaction, and gives a sense of purpose,” she explains. “For communities, they see their residents thrive with increased mobility resulting from walking a dog or grooming a cat. There’s also a simple uptick in the job and happiness that comes with the residents having a sense of purpose.”

Ruiz notes that in addition to designs and renovations that accommodate residents’ pets, some facilities also benefit from pet therapy programs that introduce community pets for residents to enjoy. In these cases, the residents still have access to animal companionship, but they don’t have the time or financial commitments of pet ownership.

As a result of the benefits that pets offer, senior care communities are increasingly requesting new pet-friendly elements. Ruiz explains that more and more communities are working to include dog parks with dog washes and pet water fountains. When space allows, dog runs are also popular requests.

For facilities looking for simple pet-friendly renovations, Ruiz recommends creating small outdoor areas for dogs. “In some cases where space is limited, introducing one or more multiple ‘potty areas’ where dogs can relieve themselves away from public zones is just enough. This can be a small turf area with a boulder or the more obvious decorative fire hydrant,” she says.

Ruiz recommends that while facilities can easily create dog-friendly spaces, they should also give some thought to creating a space for cat lovers. “Although I haven’t seen one in a senior living community, a cat café would be fun to incorporate.”

She also suggests that any senior care community working to become pet-friendly have their community operations team designate a pet coordinator. This coordinator is someone who can help the residents with pet care. It’s also important to determine who or what organization would take a pet, should a resident become ill or decline in health.

When possible, adopting a pet-friendly approach can make a senior care community more appealing to potential residents. It also has many benefits for existing residents. Whether planning a renovation or planning the construction of an entirely new community, it’s worth looking for opportunities to include pet-friendly amenities and designs.

Topics: Activities , Articles , Design , Facility management , Featured Articles , Operations , Resident Care , Senior Environments