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What is the best way to remove a dog from a parent with Alzheimer's?

19 answers | Last updated: Dec 20, 2014
nursetds asked...

What is the best way to remove a dog from a parent with Alzheimers? She has had this dog since my father passed away 8 years ago. She is living in an assisted living home, she doesn't remember to take the dog out to do his business and her apartment is begining to smell and the director has asked us to remove the dog. Without upsetting her too bad what is the best way to do this?


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Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with...
83% helpful
Beth Spencer answered...

You don’t say whether your mother still views her dog as a companion or whether she ignores the dog completely. If the former, then you might want to try to See also:
8 Surprising Ways Pets Save Lives

See all 1038 questions about Alzheimer's and Other Dementias
keep the dog in the family for a while so it can visit. If someone can take the dog and bring it for frequent visits, that may help her adjust to its loss. If she is very attached to the dog, I would recommend setting up a regular visiting schedule and a calendar for her. Photos may also help. I have seen people with dementia who become just as attached to the photographs as they were to the animal.

You will need to give her an explanation of why the dog is not living with her anymore. It seems best to be straightforward and say that the rules have changed and the dog is no longer allowed there on a permanent basis but can come visit frequently.


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88% helpful
Liz's daughter answered...

The dog must be very important to your mother. She is in assisted living so why can't staff members help her remember to get the dog outside regularly? Getting the dog outside is a constructive activity for her.

If I were you I would be concerned about a director who lacks the compassion to realize this dog is very important to your mother and very probably other residents! The solution to "Remove the dog" sounds like the director is talking about bedbugs, not a member of a resident's family... Tell this director you want them to work with you on this.


100% helpful
Texmare answered...

I agree with Liz's daughter. My mother has only had her little dog for a little over a year, about the time she started really having problems with her dementia. Her dog has been a blessing! They are inseparable and I would hate to think what it would be like if she had to give her up. After 8 years, your mother's dog really is one of the family. With Alzheimer's, each case is different, so of course it depends on your mother's stage of the disease and how it may affect her if the dog suddenly disappears. Notes around her apartment may help, but after awhile, they just become a part of the decor and go unnoticed. She may read the note and by the time she gets to the front door, forget what she was about to do. I once had an aunt who trained her dog to use puppy pads all the time, which would make for easier clean-up. I hope you can come up with a solution that won't put your mother under too much distress.


86% helpful
daughter100 answered...

This exact scenario happened to us. Our mother would NEVER have accepted one of us taking the dog and bringing her for visits - she would have called every day and night angry and demanding the dog. Thus, we came up with this idea. We asked the facility to agree to a two week extension and we would provide doggy diapers. We created a vet note to mom, telling her that her dog had a bladder and bowel infection and needed to take some meds and wear these diapers. Ultimately she could not do that for her dog, but she did pattern that her aging dog was sick. We then told her we had to take the dog to the vet. The next day, mom asked if her dog had died---we said yes. I know that sounds like a terrible lie, but mom handled that because she has experienced that with pets before and could draw on long term memory to make sense of things. She asked about her dog and requested getting another several times over the next several months. The surprising benefit has been that she will now participate in activities with others where before she was reclusive and would always decline invitations because she would say she had to take care of her dog. Nothing will be "right" or easy, but this is just the solution we picked. (FYI- My sibling is caring for the dog who has a much better life now too. )


73% helpful
jello answered...

Once that dog is gone your mother is going to decline. Everyone knows that pets help a person with alzheimers/dementia. THE FACILITY SHOULD FIND SOMEONE TO WALK THE LITTLE ANIMAL. That little animal could be her LIFELINK right now. When a friend offered me a stray kitten because I love animals I at first turned it down thinking it would be too much taking care of my mother and that little animal. I finally gave in and on a visit to my mothers dr. I told her about the kitten and she was overjoyed saying it was great for my mother to have that little kitten in the house. My mother laughs at the cat, pets him and always wants to know where he's at when he is somewhere sleeping. There are many days she doesn't seem to show him attention but for the most part I know she would really miss him and I worry if she would decline further if he wasn't here. What kind of facility is that?? they don't know about animal therapy??? Also maybe someone in the family should take thedog in and not JUST GET RID OF IT! That little animal seems to have been the mothers little companion for 8 yrs and it shouldn't just be RID of. If someone in the family takes it, it could at least be brought over to the mother for visits so she knows its still around. Since the husband passed away DON'T now take the dog away also. SHe is in a fragile state and everyone disappearing is not good for her.


100% helpful
nannysangel answered...

I agree wholeheartedly that a pet is much more than "just a pet" - he or she can be something that is worth more than any amount of therapy to someone with dementia. To remove the pet is not only cruel, but can most assuredly be counterproductive to their mental and physical health and well being.

Talk to the facility manager first and see if they can hold off for a short amount of time so you can do the following; 1) Clean up the apartment floor with odor eliminating carpet and hardwood/vinyl cleaner. If you aren't able to physically do so yourself, there are many cleaning agencies that can do so for you. 2) Call volunteer programs for free pet walking services - Senior Volunteer programs, school organizations, sororities, fraternaties, girl scouts, boy scouts, etc. - and solicit them to take the animal for regular walks. (Who knows - you might unknowingly find someone who will be a wonderful addition to your care giving circle). 3) Take the dog to the vet and make sure he/she has no health problems that might make "going" more frequent.

I have been taking care of my foster mom for several months now. We live in the country and a stray dog just happened up on the doorstep one day. I was worried about the "additional" mouth to feed, having it jump up on her, etc., etc., etc. I was thinking, okay, how do I get rid of this dog, who do I call, when I saw a wonderful transformation on her face. A light I hadn't seen in so long shone in her eyes as she spoke sweetly to the abandoned stranger. It was love at first sight for both of them.

A visit to the vet to make certain we had no health problems and a trip to the store for dog food, treats, collar, etc. resulted in a wonderful addition to our family... not to mention a measure of safety for us and a comfort to know if Nanny ever wanders, she will have an angel right beside her.

Good luck and God Bless!


100% helpful
jorie13 answered...

I have memory problems and I am a "caree" instead of a caregiver but can relate to the dog (pet) issue. My "Buddy" (large gold lab) is probably the most important part of my normal functioning. I know I have to feed, let him out, get up to play with him occassionally, etc. Without him, I probably would stay chair bound most of the time. I see my relatives daily (most of the time) and live with one but they have their own lives. Buddy is my companion. Don't reccommend getting rid of pet without some other change in companionship.


100% helpful
Kaenlm answered...

I love all of your input to this--PETS are so so important in our lives... I wish I could help your mother keep her pet-I live in the Indianapolis, Indiana area...if I could be of any help--my email is KAENLM@yahoo.com, I feel the Assisted living facility should do more for her (so she can keep it)..


80% helpful
texlas answered...

I appreciated seeing all these comments. I also am in a similar situation. My mom and her little dog are in assisted living at the moment. We know that it is just a matter of time before she has to go to long term nursing care in the alzheimers unit. Unfortunately they do not allow dogs, as rooms are shared and an allergy situation might develop. We are leaving mom where she is as long as possible just because we think she will be devastated to lose her dog. I know that the caregivers at assisted living, have to do more work when they allow pets. Fortunately, at the one where my mother is, the caregivers are very knowledgeable about how pets and alz patients interact. I think I would be more apt to try and find my mom a different environment than try to take her companion.


100% helpful
ron071 answered...

I do agree with all of the above comments regarding the need for the facilities to recognize the value of pet therapy for their clients. However, my experience informs me that most do not care, and have an arbitrary rule which does not allow dogs, although some of these allow cats.

Talking to the directors seems useless, as they seem hide-bound by their rules which come down from somewhere " above". It is unwise, however, to move the person to another facility for this reason alone as " good places" are hard to come by. I guess that reality leaves little wiggle room here. The frequent visits of pets with family members seems to be the best solution in those facilities which ban dogs.


100% helpful
djjm1 answered...

I am the caretaker for my 85 yr young parents and their yorkie Patti she is a blessing from God the Father. She has saved my dads life two times!!!! She is my mothers little joy and watches over her too!!! and most of all she is there for me!!! Our pets are amazing we must do whatever we can to keep them in the lives of our loved ones


100% helpful
samantha7 answered...

I agree with the importance of pets/companions in our life (we have 2 dogs), but with each dementia situation being different the caregivers have to take the lead and make sure the pet is safe and being taken care of properly. In my own situation (while I was still working), I couldn't figure out why our dog was gaining weight. That was before I knew the extent of my husband's short term cognitive memory impairment. I found out he was feeding the dog multiple times because he didn't remember that he just fed him 5 minutes before. I finally had to lock up the dog food and take over the feeding schedule. A friend of ours who also had dementia, and since died,had the same problem with feeding his little dog and that pup got so overweight and messed in the house because he didn't remember to let the dog out. Once he gave the dog to a sweet family who are still taking exceptional care of it our friend was actually relieved not to have the responsibility of the care anymore. He had enough problems dealing with dementia. Pets need exercise, being let out to do their business, fed regularly, nails cut, etc. It isn't fair to the pet to leave them in the care of one with progressive dementia. I think pet visitation and pet therapy would be helpful after the loss of having a pet 24/7. The caregiver family member needs to make the call and do what's best for that pet....


100% helpful
Stu answered...

I agree with Samantha... You have to care for the dog as well. My Mom has dementia and we got her a dog for companionship in her last few years in her house. At first it was wonderful and the Dr said it was great for her. But within the year she stopped walking it. did not feed him regularly. Would get mad at him for hiding his food and doing other things that were instinctive to a dog. She would not get up in the morning because she hurt and therefore the dog could not get out to do his duty. He was hiding his accidents and Mom also started having accidents and hiding her wet and soiled laundry. i was stopping in at her house daily and spending all of my time cleaning up. One minute she loved the dog and cuddled with him and the next minute he caused all the "problems". We finally took the dog to our house and had her come to our house to visit. She is now in a skilled nursing facility and we bring him in for visit. She still remembers him and it is a happy visit. I don't think I would recommend a dog for companionship with a dementia patient. It took us almost two years to get the dog trained and relaxed with us. It is not fair to the dog and family who has to pick up the pieces.


100% helpful
libsue answered...

I am having a similar problem. After my father died in Dec. 2011, I had to move my mother into an ALF near me in FL. Knowing that her little dog was the most important thing in her life, I found a place that allowed dogs. Even from the beginning, she could not care for the dog. If I brought canned dog food to her, she would open all the cans, not realizing she had already opened one. She did not take the dog out to do her business and the dog would often soil the carpet in the room and in the hallway at the ALF. The ALF director has never told me I had to remove the dog but I know that this is not a good situation. The dog also had severe allergies when she moved to FL and I had to take her for allergy shots every 2 days at first and now it's every 10 days. My mother would bring tidbits from the dining room to feed her and would often feed her things she is allergic to. Now, I keep the dog most of the time. the dog has become attached to me and it is obvious when we visit my mom, she wants to leave with me. I feel guilty about all of this and not sure what to do about it. My mother is 90 and is in moderate stage of Alzheimers. I am going to have to discuss the situation with the director of the home who is very caring. I'll post what she recommends.


50% helpful
Been There, Too answered...

It is my personal opinion that medical science has only begun to scratch the surface of how beneficial pets can be in all our lives, particularly those of the ill, weak, or lonely. There are elderly people and sick children who could benefit tremendously from having an animal companion, and shelters full of "unwanted" pets who need a loving home. Volunteers who are willing to assist with feeding, walking, and cleanup can help make it happen.

I realize allergies could be a problem, but is it really that difficult to make the needed accommodations to shield allergic residents from those whose pets bring them a bit of joy?

The only time I would advocate removing any animal from its owner is if the pet is being abused by the person. There are more compassionate ways to address nearly every other issue that may arise.


100% helpful
CA-Claire answered...

Hi nursetds -

Thank you for the thoughtful question and explanation. Each AL facility has it's own set of rules and regulations, and, of course each state has it's own regulations as well.

My Father is in an AL facility in California. He and Mom have not had dogs since about 1990 when their Sheltie died. Their journey in dementia speeded up after the Sheltie died. When we moved Mom and Dad up here, I started taking over my mini dachshunds. What I noticed then was that Mom was the dog person, not Dad. This was odd, because Dad took care of feeding their dogs over the years, and being the disciplinarian with them. Now, he does not want them on his lap, or near his face. My doxies are deaf and have some vision impairments, so they always want to see someone's face up close. After Mom passed away, I only take the dogs one at a time to see Dad, and it's usually a short visit.

The facility he is in allows pets, they just want it posted on the door, so the aides know to be careful to keep the animal from escaping from the apartment. The residents just love seeing dogs come in to visit the facility, and the residents that have dogs are very careful to take good care of them. In fact, if the resident is unable to take the dog outside to relieve themselves, there is pricing for an aide to do it for them. Seniors really need to have something to care about, and something that loves them unconditionally. Dogs and cats calm most seniors down, and help them by caring. You could say, the dogs and cats keep people younger and mobile longer.


waabeesabe answered...

I have pets, dogs and cats. I can see Alzheimer's robbing your memory of many things, including people, but if that animal has remained with you during your decline and you still remember it(recognize it or hopefully still know it's name), I think removing it would be a mistake. I believe people connect with their pets on a deeper level.