Research has indicated that companion animals are highly effective at combatting issues of loneliness, a problem that affects 1 in 5 adults and nearly half of those ages 65 and older in the United States.
Because senior citizens in rural communities often face additional barriers that limit social interaction and community participation, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) will launch a program next January that will attempt to ease some of the financial and access burdens associated with caring for the pets who often fill these roles for their elderly owners.
Petco Love has awarded the CVMBS with a $91,000 grant investment that will enable CVMBS clinicians, technicians, and students in the Small Animal Teaching Hospital’s (SATH) Primary Care Services (PCS) to expand the care offered. The grant will support the CVMBS’ lifesaving work for animals in Bastrop County, Texas, as identified by a study conducted by the non-profit Bastrop Cares.
“Our program examines how the environment of seniors 65 and older, and their pets, who are aging in place in their homes, affects their mental health and what improvements can be made,” said Dr. Lori Teller, clinical associate professor in the CVMBS’ Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS) department. “This is the largest growing population within the county and innovative tools to maintain the health of this generation are paramount to reducing disease burden on both individuals and the healthcare system.
“Numerous health benefits are reaped from having a pet, including lower blood pressure, decreased stress, improved cognitive function, and more,” she said. “However, older adults face major barriers to caring for pets, such as financial constraints, ease of access to care, and assistance in caring for the animal.”
With the Petco Love grant, the CVMBS will provide regular visits to senior citizens in the Bastrop County area to help their pets, during which PCS students, under supervision of the veterinary faculty and staff, will perform physical exams, give vaccinations, test for internal and external parasites, and treat minor or acute conditions, such as skin and ear infections, as well as discuss behavioral and nutritional concerns. They also will provide heartworm, flea, and tick prevention.
If the pet patient requires more intensive diagnostics or therapeutics, the PCS team will work with CVMBS specialists or local veterinarians to provide that care; these visits will also allow PCS faculty, staff, and students to follow-up with the pet owners between via telemedicine to provide ongoing assessments of care and to answer client questions. Owners will also receive assistance in accessing the technology required for telemedicine and with managing the animals before and after visits.
“Research has shown that many humans and animals in rural areas go without quality healthcare due to lack of access,” Teller said. “Animals play an important role in positively impacting the physical and emotional health and well-being of humans. As a result, poor animal health can increase stress and negatively impact human health.
“Populations and issues addressed through this program will work to improve health equity in a rural, underserved area,” Teller said. “Addressing these barriers and providing care to the pets relied on by these older adults will strengthen the human-animal bond and increase the associated health benefits to all.”
The program is part of a larger initiative by Texas A&M and Bastrop County community organizations that provides medical care to address the health and well-being of humans and animals through improved access to care.
“Studying the intersectionality between mental health and the human-animal bond through an interdisciplinary approach aimed at addressing social isolation will provide the means to offer holistic care to an increasingly aging population with an increasing disease burden,” Teller said. “The innovation driving this community-based program has the potential to grow and develop into standardized best practices for senior care and their pets across all rural communities.”
Petco Love is a nonprofit leading change for pets nationally by harnessing the power of love to make communities and pet families closer, stronger, and healthier. Since its founding in 1999 as the Petco Foundation, Petco Love has invested more than $300 million, to date, in adoption and other lifesaving efforts. The organization also has helped find loving homes for more than 6.5 million pets in partnership with Petco and more than 4,000 organizations nationwide.
“Petco Love is proud to invest in Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences as part of our commitment to create a future in which no pet is unnecessarily euthanized,” said Susanne Kogut, Petco Love president.
To learn more about Petco Love, visit petcolove.org.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; email@example.com; 979-862-4216