How to Find a Pet-Friendly Assisted Living Facility

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

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When older adults have pets, they live happier and healthier lives. Research shows that pet ownership has many benefits, including improved heart health, increased exercise, improved socialization, and better mental health. Pets require care and compassion and can give people a sense of purpose and responsibility.

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For seniors who have had a pet for several years, it is like having a member of the family. The bond that develops is strong and lasting. When it comes time to make a move, the idea of parting with a pet is heartbreaking. So, if possible, every effort should be made to find a facility that will accept your loved one’s pet.

More and more assisted living communities recognize the value of pets for their residents and develop policies and procedures to make this possible. As you look for an assisted living facility that will accept a pet, let’s look at some questions to ask and things to look for to make it a positive experience. 

What’s a Pet-Friendly Assisted Living Facility?

A pet-friendly assisted living facility allows residents to have certain animals in their apartments or rooms. Along with that permission comes specific rules regarding what kind and size of an animal are permitted and care requirements. 

Not every assisted living facility will be the same, so make sure your pet can live with you before you sign the dotted line. Also, consider the risks and additional problems associated with bringing a pet to a new environment. Changes can be hard on animals, which can also create behavioral issues. In particular, your dog may have had unrestricted access to the outdoors, which may not be possible in assisted living.

Any assisted living community will require that you can take care of your pet and keep your apartment and common areas clean.

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What Things Should You Look for in a Pet-Friendly Assisted Living Facility?

Depending on the type of pet you have, there are specific things you should look for to make you and your pet comfortable. Also, don’t forget that other residents in assisted living might have a problem with individual pets, so you want to know if your neighbor has a specific fear or allergy to your pet.

Living in assisted living also requires that you become part of a community where you’ll want to respect people’s differences and be mindful of how your pet affects other people. If you are unable to find a place that suits your needs, make sure to keep an eye out for other senior housing options.

1. Elimination areas

If your loved one has a dog, there has to be a place for them to safely and cleanly eliminate. Some assisted living facilities have a designated area, and others expect you to take your dog outside. If that is the case, you will want to explore the area around the building to see what is available and permissible. Having to walk a great distance for this purpose could be challenging for you, so keep this in mind. 

Things are a bit easier for a cat since they can use a litter box, but you will still be expected to keep it clean. For example, if you have a bird, keeping the cage clean is your responsibility. The flooring in assisted living could be carpet or wood, and you don’t want to damage that area with pet droppings.

2. Walking areas

You will need to walk your dog. In some cases, that can occur in the building, but most people will need to take their dog out for elimination purposes anyway. Having a safe and pleasant area to walk your dog should be a priority. An assisted living community that is surrounded by busy streets may not be ideal. Dogs do get loose, and you want a safe area. Is there a park nearby? Are the walking areas safe at all hours of the day?

3. Other residents

If you can, knowing who your neighbor is could be a big help in making a decision. A neighbor who doesn’t like dogs could end up creating conflict later. Especially if your dog barks. Barking dogs can create a big problem in assisted living. Or if you have a dog that tends to jump on people.

Frail older residents could be at risk if even a small dog jumps on them. The potential of knocking someone over could be catastrophic for that person. You will probably have to keep a dog on a leash at all times, so make sure your dog is leash trained. 

4. Barking dogs

As we mentioned before, a barking dog in a community can create conflict and complaints. To you, the barking may not be an issue at all because you have gotten used to it. Talk openly with the staff before moving in to discuss ways in which you will work to mitigate this problem. 

How Do You Find a Pet-Friendly Assisted Living Facility?

Rule number one: in your search for pet-friendly assisted living, don’t overlook other factors in making a decision about which assisted living to choose. Your pet is important, but you won’t want to pick an assisted living that doesn’t meet your other requirements just to be able to move with your pet. Try and have it all!

Do an online search

An online search can give you lots of information upfront about pet policies and procedures. Call to ensure that the information online is up to date and accurate. 

Use a local senior living referral specialist

An experienced senior living referral specialist can be an incredible asset in finding a pet-friendly assisted living community. If possible, avoid national companies that purport to find placement for you. These companies typically send out your information to multiple assisted living marketing staff, and you can be inundated with phone calls.

A local specialist will have hands-on experience in finding not only a pet-friendly community but one that meets your other needs as well. You can expect personal tours and expertise in policies and costs. 

Ask for referrals

Friends, healthcare providers, and others may have first-hand information on suitable pet-friendly assisted living facilities.

Ask around to get ideas and personal referrals. If you know someone who has a pet in an assisted living, visit and ask for a tour and details how it is going. Talk with your friend about any problems they have encountered and how those were handled.

Talk to a geriatric care manager or social worker

Geriatric care managers are generally privately paid, but a one-time consultation might be well worth it to find out what they know about pet-friendly assisted living. If you are in rehab or the hospital, talk with the social worker about any pet-friendly assisted living communities.

What Questions Should You Ask a Pet-Friendly Assisted Living Facility?

It is wise to ask lots of questions and, when possible, ask to see written pet policies. The more answers you get, the more informed decision you can make. You don’t want any surprises later after you and your pet have already moved in.

What is the cost?

There will most certainly be an extra cost to have a pet in assisted living. This will be an additional amount added to your monthly bill for some communities, and there might also be a pet deposit. You may also be responsible for any damage your pet does while living there. 

What is the maximum weight?

If you have a big dog, chances are you will not be permitted to bring that animal to assisted living with you. The typical weight limit is 15 to 20 pounds. The safety of other residents is the main reason there is a weight limit. Some communities will fudge on this a bit, but don’t count on it.

What breeds are allowed?

Some communities will disallow dogs with behavioral problems. Temperament issues might need to be addressed as staff will have to enter your residence without the threat of harm. Take an honest look at your pet’s behavior. If you have a dog that tends to nip at people, this could be a reason for concern. 

Are other types of pets permitted?

If you have another type of pet, like a bird, hamster, a snake, or other types of reptiles, are these allowed? Ask to see specific pet policies regarding types. Also, there might be a limit on the number of pets you can have. 

Is there a pet caretaker policy?

Some communities require you to designate a person who is willing to take care of the animal if you aren’t able to. The idea of having a backup is a good idea anyway in case you have an accident or illness that prevents you from caring for your pet. Some of these facilities may have staff available to fill in if necessary, for an additional cost. 

How are complaints handled?

Complaints about pets in assisted living are a common occurrence. Not everyone will love your pet as much as you do. With that in mind, what is the policy for handling complaints? Should you have additional liability insurance if someone threatens litigation? 

Where can you take your pet in the community?

Most assisted living communities have many common areas for residents to gather. Some are unstructured, and others accommodate activities like movies and classes. Ask about where your pet can go and what areas are off-limits. For example, it is unlikely you can take your pet to the dining areas.

If you have a cat, can your cat wander the halls outside your apartment? Some communities do allow this with certain restrictions. 

What are the designated areas for walking and elimination?

Ask to see these pet areas so you can get an idea of whether the environment is suitable for your pet. An active dog might require more room to run in, which may not be available.  

Are there age limits or training requirements?

Ask about the minimum age of a pet. Some communities require a dog to be at least one year old and housebroken with proof of vaccinations. In general, you will want to make sure your pet is vaccinated to keep their health in tip-top shape.

Pet-Friendly Assisted Living

Having a pet is a positive and beneficial experience. When you are ready to move to assisted living, following our steps and asking questions will ensure that you and your pet will be happy.

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