The Importance of Pet Care During Health Crises

A stethoscope with a heart on a pale blue backgroundThe results of an exciting new survey were released last month from researchers at the University of Michigan looking at medical decision-making by pet guardians. The results were published in the Journal of Patient Experience (2021), and show how important pets are to guardians facing health crises and the resulting decisions they make.

Survey: Pet Care During Health Crises

More than half of survey respondents, 63%, reported difficulty figuring out pet care during their own hospitalization and/or that of a loved one. In addition, nearly a third of the respondents said that pet care needs impacted their decision, or the decision of someone they knew, about whether to stay in the hospital even when medically recommended. Additionally, 16% of respondents said that they know someone who has left the hospital against medical advice in order to care for their pets. These results are striking and highlight this incredibly challenging issue. The researchers even noted that, due to its small scale, the survey likely under-estimates the scope of the problem.

“We see a rising need for a formalized services to identify patients early in their course who need assistance with pet care, and a need to provide better resources, before it becomes a crisis and impacts their care or the welfare of their pets,” said Tiffany Braley, M.D., M.S., the senior author and principal investigator. Read more about the survey here.

How PAWS NY Tackles This Issue

Here at PAWS NY, we have long known that pet guardians make decisions about their health care based on whether or not they have access to care for their furry family members. We have personally heard over and over from guardians who either delay medical care or leave the hospital against medical advice, because their pets are home alone. Because our clients are socially isolated and under-resourced, they often do not have the support needed to arrange for pet care and freely seek medical care when necessary.

PetSmart Charities has also recognized this challenge and wants to help address the issue. The organization recently awarded funding to PAWS NY, Animal Haven, and Search and Care in order to assist the most vulnerable pet guardians at risk of losing their animals due to health crises and hospitalizations. The resulting project, “Preserving Families in Times of Crisis,” will support older adults and other vulnerable populations by helping them prepare for emergencies with their pets, and providing emergency and foster care for pets while their guardians recover and are ultimately reunited.  

We are excited that scholarly research is supporting the importance of tackling this issue on the ground level and hope our work continues to highlight the importance of emergency planning for pets.

If you or someone you know is in need of pet care while dealing with a health crisis, email PAWS NY at Referrals@pawsny.org