Animal Cuddles at the Hospital? Yes Please!

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    There are service animals, emotional support animals, and animals that are your best friends at home. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could have a little mixture of all of them and they could come visit with patients at the hospital, as well as give staff a little mid-shift morale boost? Granted, not all people like animals, but those who do, really, really do, and how great would it be to get them a few minutes with man’s best friend?

    Animal Cuddles at the Hospital? Yes Please!

    There have been lots of articles about animals at Nursing Homes and long-term care facilities, but there isn’t a lot out there about animals brought to the in-patient setting. Animals are almost always allowed when they are working service animals, which are animals trained to perform a specific duty task for a person in need of assistance (like a seeing eye dog, seizure alert dogs, etc.) as part of maintaining Americans with Disabilities (ADA) requirements. However allowing therapy pets, is a little more controversial.

    Therapy pets are personal pets that, along with their owners, provide supervised goal-directed interventions to patients in hospital. Usually therapy animals are required to have some sort of certification showing that they are non-aggressive and able to consistently follow simple commands. The American Kennel Club offers a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) exam that more than covers these requirements, including the dog's responses to people in wheelchairs and on crutches, and is usually a requirement for a therapy pet. It’s a pretty good requirement to know that animals coming into the hospital to visit ill patients won’t be aggressive to staff, patients, etc. right? On a personal note, my dogs both passed the CGC as they are therapy animals, but the biggest hurdle for one of them was people in wheelchairs; he absolutely would lose his mind with anyone on wheels (i.e. skateboards, rollerblades, and wheelchairs) which was not only embarrassing, but a lot of work to correct!

    When our hospital first started offering therapy pet visits, I heard some staff concerned about the ‘diseases’ that animals might bring to their already sick patients. My first thought was, let’s not forget that hospitals are filled with a lot of germs, despite insane amounts of cleaning! That being said, there are 39 diseases that are known as zoonosis diseases, in that they spread from animal to humans, however the transmission is infrequent with most diseases now due to vaccines and preventative care for animals. Some of the most well known are rabies and roundworm, however all dogs that work as therapy animals must have their vaccinations for rabies and be on preventative monthly treatment for parasites (such as worms), and there are a lot of rules in place by hospitals to make sure that pets are only in places that they should be in hospitals.

    One big rule? Pets can only visit with patients who are interested in seeing them. So, people are not just walking around with their animals and going room to room. Patients are made aware when pet therapy visiting hours are, well in advance, and they are allowed to request or decline a visit. Sometimes the dogs are brought to the solarium/family room to allow for group visits for patients who are ambulatory, but for those who are bed bound, or with limited mobility, the dogs are brought right to their rooms.

    Also, the therapy pets are not allowed to visit patients on neutropenic precautions, or patients who are severely immunocompromised, and they are not allowed in the PACU, ORs, Critical Care Units, Labor and Delivery, and other procedural areas where sterility is maintained. in addition, staff who come in contact with the animals, who should be groomed the day of their visit, are required to wash their hands both before and after touching the animals, if they choose to do so. Patients are also encouraged to wash their hands (or use sanitizer) before and after contact, and it is offered to them via the human handler of the dogs. Between good hand hygiene, and preventative healthcare requirements for the animals, most zoonosis diseases are removed as a risk for patients.

    When you see the faces of visitors, staff, and patients as the animals walk onto the unit, or walk throughout the halls of the medical center, there is no thought of transmittable disease, because people’s faces light up and they are so excited to have a furry visitor. Whether you are an animal person, or not, and whether you think that therapy dogs help, or not, the energy and happiness that follows these furry friends around the hospital is amazing, and I like to think that a visit from these uplifting creatures helps to heal these patients and get home sooner! Have you ever had experience with therapy animals in your hospital? Do you wish that your hospital had this program? I couldn’t imagine not having this option for patients, after seeing patients responses.
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 20
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    14 Comments

  3. by   Flatline
    We had a therapy dog walk through our unit this one time and one of the patients did not know the dog was there until she looked down at the friendly dog about 3 feet away... ssssSSSSSSSSCCRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAM MMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmm!

    Turns out she had a phobia of dogs and was highly allergic. Full on asthma attach, the whole nine yards. Came very close to coding this poor lady.

    From then on, no more animals on the unit unless it was announced and approved by all the patients lol.
  4. by   elkpark
    Both medical centers in which I've worked over the last 10 years have had active pet therapy programs. People do love it.
  5. by   KCMnurse
    My husband was recently hospitalized for a couple of days. A volunteer brought in a therapy dog to visit with us. We are not really 'dog people' but I have to say it was soothing to pet the dog and think about something other that being in the hospital and the health issues he was dealing with at the time. I highly recommend this.
  6. by   OrganizedChaos
    I've always wanted to do this. I haven't had a dog that agrees with that sentiment. Maybe one day...
  7. by   NurseSpeedy
    Years ago I worked for a small hospital that had all private rooms. I have walked in on a couple of family members who snuck the dog in without being noticed (before modern security measures were in place). Usually it was a patient that had been hospitalized for weeks with a poor prognosis. The dog was quiet and so was I. I wasn't able to be the one who enforced the rules on a brief visit that was obviously emotionally beneficial for the patient.
  8. by   Krista Keim
    I take my dog Lily to the Pediatric floor of the hospital every week. The kids and staff love it. If a nurse gets all excited to see her, she'll wag and wag yet with the kids is calm as can be. The amazing thing is that she seems to know where the kids are hurting and will lay her head there. Twice I've seen kids come from brain surgery and respond to her when waking up by reaching for her; miraculous moments to witness. (We do get to visit certain kids in the PICU) Love the visits, and Lily does too. She starts wagging her tail as soon as we approach the hospital.
  9. by   amoLucia
    Quote from Flatline
    We had a therapy dog walk through our unit this one time and one of the patients did not know the dog was there until she looked down at the friendly dog about 3 feet away... ssssSSSSSSSSCCRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAM MMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmm!

    Turns out she had a phobia of dogs and was highly allergic. Full on asthma attach, the whole nine yards. Came very close to coding this poor lady.

    From then on, no more animals on the unit unless it was announced and approved by all the patients lol.
    This!

    I, too, am highly phobic about dogs. I am fine with other all other critters, but NOT dogs! (There was a childhood experience.) We are talking 'fight or flight syndrome'. Pupils dilating, nasal flaring, tachypnea, tachycardia ... I do the whole deal.

    I worked LTC and we freq had pet/dog visits. I know the pts loved it, but every fiber of my being just focused on the presence of the dog present. I could NOT function with any dog around. Still can't.

    It's so sad, but people will respect an ALLERGY to an animal, but not fear or phobia. Always some jerk around trying to convert me. So over the years, I just make like I have an allergy. Little more accepting.

    Just let me know in advance and then someone could have taken over for me while Fido was on the unit.
  10. by   Burks21
    We used to have a therapy dog come in on day shift to our hospital. He could count to 10, open doors, navigate the hospital on his own, etc. His owner was quite elderly so I'm not really sure what happened. Haven't seen either the dog or the owner for a year or so.

    He was such a big baby of a dog. Probably weighed 80-100lbs, German Shepard, but a big baby. He loved to just be touched by anyone.

    We have allowed personal pets to brought in, provided they are clean and the patient is not infectious (MRSA, VRE, etc).
  11. by   sunny time
    I am raising a therapy dog. Part of the games i play with her is pulling her tail, flipping her ears, and rugging her head. Animals do not like something moving over their head above the eyes. I also beep her nose. She can sit and stay, high five and give doggy kisses if she is asked. She is only 3 months old and very calm. This is a phenomenon in and of itself as sh is chihuahua. I have had her around developmently disabled adults and today she was introduced to a young female. She behaves int the same interested and engaging manner, but is very calm. When she is spoken to she looks directly into your face and acts like you are the only one in the room.Even if you hate dogs watching from afar will make you smile. She has a personality that does not quit. Mishka means "cuddley teddy bear" which she is. Little black eyes and nose on that little blonde face makes you think she is a beanie baby.People start smiling as soon as they see her.
  12. by   Not_A_Hat_Person
    I worked in a SNF with a cat that was supposed to be therapeutic. Unfortunately, the cat had a habit of scratching patients. When I was there they were trying to find a new home for the cat.

    I also have a dog phobia. You say your dog is friendly, so were the 2 that attacked me. Therapy animals should be announced in advance, and people should be able to opt out.
  13. by   traumaRUs
    What a great article. My grand-daughter spent 2.5 months in the PICU 2 years ago with a stroke, brain surgery, vent, etc... The therapy dog was so cool. My grand-daughter loved them all (its a big hospital and they have multiple therapy dogs).
  14. by   Bridgid Joseph
    Thank you- they are AMAZING especially with the pedi population Glad you had a good experience!

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