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Keeping care homes pest-free

Old people's home

I was just flicking through my Facebook feed when I came across the heart-warming story of a miniature Shetland pony visiting residents in a care home. The pony, Milo, is a therapy animal, meaning he visits residents to help improve their mood by decreasing anxiety and increasing confidence.

Animals are now part of many therapy packages, sometimes with good reason and sometimes because you can’t help but think people are just looking to get attention (see, ‘emotional support peacock’). Cats and dogs are the most common therapy animals, probably because they remind people of former pets, but there are instances of therapy snakes, rabbits and even, though I find this hard to believe, skunks! It seems to me, it’s a brave institution that admits a skunk.

Our staff are incredibly caring, and for the second time members of our own bird team have been visiting care homes. We don’t get paid for this work but it’s a way to give back to the community and our staff love showing off and talking about their feathered friends.

During the most recent visit, the team took the time to meet every resident in their own rooms so they could experience the birds at close quarters. Visits like this would normally be done outside, but the weather was particularly cold and some of the residents were not able to leave their rooms.

While some animals are welcome in care homes, others definitely are not. For most of us, a wasp sting, a bite from a spider or bed bug, or even a mild case of Salmonella is an inconvenience but not life-threatening. The same cannot be said for vulnerable residents in a care home.

Focus on prevention

Care homes must take pest control seriously, and that means effective prevention. Rats in the kitchen, cockroaches in the cupboard, pigeons on the roof or squirrels in the attic can all be a major problem, spreading disease, creating disturbance and damaging the fabric of the building.

As a company, our focus is always on ‘Exclusion and Restriction before Destruction’. In a care home, this looks like:

  • Exclusion – staff look at where pests are entering a premises and make sure entrance points are blocked
  • Restriction – keeping food and waste areas clean and tidy at all times
  • Destruction – only if it is necessary, use chemical and physical elimination techniques to remove a problem

Stay calm

However good you are at exclusion and restriction, there is always the possibility of an unexpected problem. This could be a wasp or ant invasion in summer or a nest of rats looking for warmth in winter.

The most important thing to do is stay calm. This is especially true when you have elderly or confused residents, as panicking and overreacting will only cause distress and could make the situation more dangerous.

Next, you should call in a professional pest control company. The quicker you do this, the sooner the pest problem will be gone.

When working with a pest control company, communication is key. They should always take the time to explain what has happened and what their strategy is. The key communication point is that everything is under control and will be sorted. If they don’t give you that assurance, then you should question them more closely.

What do pests want?

Food, safe harbourage, water and warmth. Any business that provides all of these could be targeted by a range of pests. They will be particularly interested if there is an easy-to-reach food source. This might be a spilled cup of tea with six sugars, biscuit crumbs dropped onto the floor or food bins that are not properly sealed.  

We often think about pests as meaning rats and cockroaches, but care homes should also consider things like ants. Most care homes will have a patio area with French doors that may be open during the summer months. This will make an attractive access point for hungry ants looking for sweet treats.


There are many things non-professionals can do in terms of pest control prevention. Staff must always be the first line of defence. They need to be constantly aware of potential entry points – a window, the patio doors, a broken roof tile, etc. – exclusion. They should also always clean up after preparing food and make sure waste areas are kept tidy and properly maintained – restriction. Finally, if there is a problem, they need to quickly call in a professional pest control company to deal with the it – destruction.

Care mangers should ensure that any pest control company called in to deal with a problem has the correct systems in place to protect staff and residents. They should also ensure the company requires pest control technicians to wear the right PPE, and technicians should be able to solve the problem but also offer advice on how the care home can improve its own pest control measures – good housekeeping.

Finally, pest control companies visiting care homes should be discreet and consider the impact of their visit on residents. This means ensuring bait boxes and monitors are out of view and all work should be carried out with the minimum disturbance to residents and visitors.

As I review what I’ve written, it’s become clear to me that although I started out talking about the issues surrounding animals and pest on cares, must of what I’ve written applies to any business …except the bit about a therapy skunk!

Anyway, it is the season to be jolly, so let me take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Image by Rosy - The world is worth thousands of pictures from Pixabay