Finding Room For A Furry Friend

The benefits of including pets in patient care

by Mary Boland

Illustration by Terri Scott

On first glance, animals in hospitals may seem counter-intuitive. A dog could carry germs, and bites and scratches can cause all sorts of mayhem. In truth, these concerns are not as well-founded as once thought. While allergies can be a challenge with some patients, it has been proven that animals can provide aid in rehabilitative activities such as throwing a ball or walking, and provide a welcome distraction from physical pain and depression.

Recently, animal assistant therapy programs have blossomed into a variety of avenues from visits to hospital and nursing homes, to schools and businesses. They’ve even been recruited as tutors for children learning to read. Dogs are the more common and often safer animal used in therapy as they can be well-trained.

According to newly published guidelines by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology in American (SHEA), dogs over one year old are recommended if they have yearly veterinary evaluations and proper vaccinations. They should be combed before entering a health care setting to reduce the amount of dander and loose hair. Patients, from their end, should wash their hands after interaction with the animals and not be eating or drinking while the animal is present. Visits from dogs who are personal pets, while discouraged by the guidelines on the basis of lacking certified training, can be agreed upon by individual doctors and their institutions.

While each hospital will have its different rules and regulations for animal visits, the benefits to patients all remain the same—a decrease in stress, pain, and anxiety, all thanks to a furry friend.

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