New pet therapy guidelines announced

New pet therapy guidelines announced

Animal Assisted Therapy has proven to help alleviate a number of health issues among patients. Dogs have been known to relieve post traumatic stress disorder, horses have been able to decrease anxiety with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dolphins have been able to help with speech and motor skills for children with mental and emotional handicaps.

Although, animals create a powerful bond by helping improve patients’ social, emotional, or cognitive function, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) says health care providers need to exercise caution when bringing animals into their sites.

“While there may be benefits to patient care, the role of animals in the spread of bacteria is not well understood,” said Dr. David Weber, lead author of the recommendations in a press release.

SHEA has announced new guidelines to protect patients. The recommended policies are published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology journal and include the following:

Animal-assisted activities

  • Facilities should develop a written policy and designate a liaison for animal-assisted activity.
  • Allow only dogs.
  • Animals and handlers must be formally trained and evaluated.
  • Infection Prevention and Control teams and clinical staff should be educated about the program.
  • Animal handlers must have all required immunizations, prevent the animal from having contact with invasive devices and practice proper hygiene before and after contact.
  • Hospitals should maintain a log of all animal-assisted activity visits.

Service animals

  • Must be compliant with the Federal Americans for Disability Act (ADA).
  • Dialogue should be made with Infection Prevention and Control Team if an inpatient has a service animal.
  • Health care providers or staff can only ask the patient or visitor to describe what work/tasks the dog performs.

Personal pet visitation

  • No pets should be allowed to enter health care facilities.
  • Exceptions can be made if the pet helps to benefit the patient, but only dogs should be allowed.
  • The patient must perform hand hygiene immediately before and after contact with the animal.

Lynn Skelton, epidemiology and infection prevention manager for Advocate Medical Group and Advocate Dreyer Medical Center in Aurora, Ill., agrees with the new guidelines.

“I don’t think that you will find an infection preventionist who doesn’t agree with these recommendations,” Skelton says. “SHEA made it practical and safe for both the patient and the animal while understanding the importance of pet therapy for patients.”

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  1. Lynn Hutley

    My local hospital has extended its pet therapy program and it has been so well received. The dogs really do make a difference.

  2. Love to see patients smile when dogs come to visit!

  3. Mmmm…wonder why it’s only dogs and not cats. It can’t be allergy related, because people are potentially allergic to dogs and/or cats. I doubt it’s a “what’s on the paws because of the litter box” issue because a dog could walk through something in the parking lot. Anyone know why?

    • That is a good question and has been explained in the new SHEA guidelines. In order to devise the new guidelines, a committee of experts reviewed information from studies on animals in health care settings, as well as existing hospital policies and a survey of more than 300 SHEA members.
      For pet therapy, the guidelines recommend that only dogs that are at least 1 year old be used. “Cats should be excluded,” the guidelines continue, “because they cannot be trained to reliably provide safe interactions with patients in the health care setting.” What’s more, people are more likely to be allergic to cats than to dogs, and cats may pose an increased risk for bites and scratches compared to trained dogs, the recommendations say.
      Dr. Murthy, a co-lead author of the guidelines, said cats could be used at the discretion of individual institutions.

  4. Maybe because cats like to jump high and hide.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.