Best Pets for Nursing Homes

The transition from living independently to moving into a nursing home can be a significant challenge for someone’s mental state.

Many have found that allowing pets in nursing homes is a great way to reduce residents’ feelings of stress, uncertainty, and loneliness.

We understand that many communities don’t allow pets for health and safety reasons.

That being said, certain animals and implementation methods can offer the emotional support that so many residents need, without sacrificing safety.

What are the best pets for nursing homes?

Read on to learn which animals and species we feel are best suited for these communities.

Dogs as Companions

A dog is known as a “man’s best friend” for a reason.

They quickly become an integral part of any family that adopts them, as their unconditional love helps us through good times and bad.

Studies have found that they understand our emotions so well, that they can detect when we’re overly stressed, sad, or depressed, and try to console us.

This can be an incredible outlet for residents in nursing homes.

Each person has different preferences for dog breeds, but some are better suited for this environment than others.

Here are a few dog breeds that we think are the best pets for nursing homes.


man holding pub dog

Pugs are small, easy to care for, very friendly, and adaptable.

They are good at making friends with humans and other dogs, which is vital in pet-friendly communities.

Also, they are lazier than most and have a fun nature about them.


person with poodle dog

Poodles are generally small, easy to maintain, and don’t shed.

They are one of the smartest breeds out there and are known for being docile and gentle.

Poodles also take very well to humans and other dogs, making them great companions in a nursing home.

Cocker Spaniel

older man with cocker spaniel eating soup

Cocker Spaniels are very intelligent, affectionate, and gentle towards humans and other dogs.

They do shed, but much less than other species.

They require a little higher maintenance because of their thick coats, but their loving and docile nature makes them excellent companions.

Disadvantages of Dogs as Resident Pets

Some concerns are for residents tripping over them, certain allergies, biting, scratching, and loud barking.

While the characteristics of these breeds are generally calm, gentle, and friendly, there are some outliers.

Another issue is treating dogs if they have any kind of ailment.

It will take an extra level of care and coordination with vets to house dogs with your residents.

With any domesticated animal, you have the risk of these occurrences.

Unfortunately, it may only take one time to have a pet removed from a residence, which could cause added grief to the owner.

Cats as Companions

Cats are much more secluded and require less attention than dogs, but owners develop bonds just as strong with them.

Characteristics that make cats suitable for a nursing home are that they’re generally easy to take care of, enjoy more confined spaces, and can be very affectionate towards their owners.

Just like dogs, there are some cats better suited for a nursing home environment than others.

Here are 3 cat breeds we think can thrive with seniors in assisted living communities.


The Ragdoll cat is a great option for seniors.

This breed is generally easy to take care of, calm, and affectionate towards its owner.

For a cat to be happy and cooperative in a nursing home setting, it must be somewhat low-energy and gentle, and the ragdoll breed checks off these boxes.


woman sitting with birman cat

Birman breeds are playful, gentle, and affectionate.

They are active and curious, but still find happiness in small rooms with minimal entertainment.

They’re great pets for homes with children and adults because of their kind demeanor and easy-going personality.

They’re also not very bothered by other cats, dogs, or humans in their space.


woman holding persian cat

The Persian breed is fluffy, cuddly, and very calm.

They’re great pets for families with children and older adults.

In a nursing home, they won’t require a significant amount of entertainment, either.

They will enjoy the few toys they have along with the affection of their owner.

Disadvantages of Cats as Resident Pets

Cats are amazing companions, but they’re very independent.

Sometimes that independence leads to them doing things we tell them not to do.

The unpredictability of cats can create problems like a fall hazard, damaging equipment, scratching, and biting.

There’s also an added level of care needed, like cleaning litter boxes and providing areas for climbing and hiding, which may not be available in many nursing homes.

And, just like dogs, some cats will get sick or have health issues of some kind.

Extra care may be needed by your staff, whether it be administering treatment or making visits to the vet.

Visitation Therapy with Cats and Dogs

If your nursing home doesn’t allow personal pets for residents, visitation therapy is always encouraged.

Bringing trained therapy dogs and cats to your facility is a proven way to give residents mental and physical benefits, with fewer safety concerns.

And in memory care units, pet visitation is an excellent form of sensory therapy for Dementia patients.

Visitation therapy also provides the benefits of a pet companion, without needing constant care for the animal.

We recommend doing these sessions relatively often as they bring so much joy to those in nursing homes.

Read this article by the Nursing Home Law News for tips to ensure these sessions are safe, clean, and healthy for all your residents.

Fish as Companions

man infront of aquarium

When personal pets aren’t allowed and the care of dogs and cats is too much to handle, you can look to fish as another companion.

By including an aquarium in your nursing home, you won’t have to deal with the possibility of resident injuries, while still providing healthy interaction.

Many nursing homes have implemented an aquarium in communal areas and found many health benefits.

While it may not feel like a personal pet, interaction with an aquarium and colorful fish has been proven to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve nutritional intake
  • Decrease disruptive behaviors among Alzheimer’s patients

Fish tanks in nursing homes are a much safer, more predictable, and more relaxing way to offer your residents healthy animal interaction.

Disadvantages of Fish as Companions

A main disadvantage of an aquarium is that it can be complicated to keep the water clean and the fish healthy.

If you lease an aquarium through Serenity, however, cleaning and maintenance will be taken care of for you.

An aquarium may also be more expensive as opposed to animal visitation therapy.

In fact, some organizations may offer animal visitation at no charge to you.

Analyze your nursing home’s budget and the interests of your residents.

That way, you can determine if the ease of care and health benefits outweigh the price of leasing an aquarium.

Birds as Companions

birds on branch in aviary
serenity wood aviary

Another low-maintenance option that offers healthy engagement is a large bird aviary from Serenity.

Much like an aquarium, observing birds in either an aviary or outdoors offers certain health benefits.

Some of these benefits include:

  • Decreased stress
  • Increased feelings of happiness
  • Increased focus and engagement
  • Decreased disruptive behaviors among people with Alzheimer’s

Sporadic movements and bird songs contribute to this increased focus and engagement.

A bird aviary also encourages people to gather and discuss the types, colors, and songs of these birds.

What activities do you offer that bring residents together?

Do you think a spacious bird cage can add to that experience, or create a new one?

Also, like aquariums, we fabricate custom bird aviaries and provide routine services for cleaning, maintenance, and bird health checks.

Disadvantages of Birds as Companions

Much like aquariums, adding a large aviary to your space may be more pricy than offering temporary animal visitation.

Also, birds are less hardy than cats and dogs and are more susceptible to getting sick.

Some residents build a connection to the birds in their aviary, and it can be hard to see any pass away.

We work tirelessly to improve the health of all our birds and refine our practices of care.

We ask that our clients inform us right away if they notice any issues with their feathered friends.

Then we discuss the situation and do all we can to remedy it.


So, what are the best pets for nursing homes?

Cats and dogs provide excellent emotional support for residents.

They can act as a form of consistency when making a tough transition from independent living to a nursing home.

Yet, they do carry some unpredictability that could cause problems within the community.

If your nursing home doesn’t allow for resident pets, and you don’t have a form of pet therapy in place, we suggest implementing one.

Think of the joy your residents will feel every time their cuddly, furry friends walk in the door.

To eliminate the concerns of allergies and other safety issues, fish and birds may be the best pets for nursing homes.

Another benefit is that you can have the birds or fish there all the time, so your residents won’t have to wait for a therapy session.

They can simply go to the area you’ve set for them and enjoy the animals for as long as they please!