Tag Archives: animal therapy

Infection control guidelines for animal visitation

The use of dogs in hospitals and other therapy institutions is on the rise, as more medical professionals acknowledge the positive effects of dogs on human patients.

New expert guidance by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) outlines recommendations for developing policies regarding the use of animals in healthcare facilities, including animal-assisted activities, service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation in acute care hospitals.

The guidance was published online in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of SHEA.

“Animals have had an increasing presence in healthcare facilities,” said David Weber, MD, MPH, a lead author of the recommendations. “While there may be benefits to patient care, the role of animals in the spread of bacteria is not well understood. We have developed standard infection prevention and control guidance to help protect patients and healthcare providers via animal-to-human transmission in healthcare settings.”

Guidance is grouped by the role of animals – animal-assisted activities (i.e., pet therapy and volunteer programs), service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation. Select recommendations include:

Animal-Assisted Activities

  • Facilities should develop a written policy for animal-assisted activities. An animal-assisted activity visit liaison should be designated.
  • Allow only dogs to serve in animal-assisted activities, such as pet therapy.
  • Animals and handlers should be formally trained and evaluated.
  • Animal interaction areas should be determined in collaboration with the Infection Prevention and Control team and clinical staff should be educated about the program.
  • Animal handlers must have all required immunizations, restrict contact of their animal to patient(s) visited and prevent the animal from having contact with invasive devices, and require that everyone who touches the animal to practice hand hygiene before and after contact.
  • The hospital should maintain a log of all animal-assisted activities visits including rooms and persons visited for potential contact tracing.

Service Animals

  • The policy allowing service animals of patients and visitors into the facility should be compliant with the Federal Americans for Disability Act (ADA), other applicable state and local regulations and include a statement that only dogs and miniature horses are recognized as Service Animals under federal law.
  • If an inpatient has a service animal, notification should be made to the Infection Prevention and Control Team, followed by discussion with the patient to make sure the owner of the service animal complies with institutional policies.
  • Healthcare providers or staff may ask the patient or visitor to describe what work/tasks the dog performs for the patient, but may not ask for a “certification” or “papers.”

Personal Pet Visitation

  • Pets should, in general, be prohibited from entering the healthcare facility.
  • Exceptions can be considered if the healthcare team determines that visitation with a pet would be of benefit to the patient and can be performed with limited risk. Even then, visitation should be restricted to dogs.
  • The patient must perform hand hygiene immediately before and after contact with the animal.

The authors of the guidance also note that as the role of animals in healthcare evolves, there is a need for stronger research to establish evidence-based guidelines to manage the risk to patients and healthcare providers.

This guidance on animals in healthcare facilities has been endorsed by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), the leading professional association for infection preventionists with more than 15,000 members.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Previous blogs about therapy dogs include:

Animal therapy’s positive effects on college students

Animal-assisted therapy can reduce symptoms of anxiety and loneliness among college students, according to researchers at Georgia State University, Idaho State University and Savannah College of Art and Design. Their findings are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health.

German Shepherd Sophie is a trained assistance dog.  Photo courtesy of Georgia State University

German Shepherd Sophie is a trained assistance dog. Photo courtesy of Georgia State University

The researchers provided animal-assisted therapy to 55 students in a group setting at a small arts college in the southeastern United States.  They found a 60 percent decrease in self-reported anxiety and loneliness symptoms following animal-assisted therapy, in which a registered therapy dog was under the supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner.

Eighty-four percent of the participants reported their interaction with the therapy dog, Sophie, was the most significant part of the program.

The group sessions were held twice monthly during an academic quarter. Students were invited to stop by and interact with the therapy dog as long as they wished, up to two hours. They were allowed to pet, hug, feed, brush, draw, photograph, sit near and play fetch with the therapy dog.

Dr. Leslie Stewart of Idaho State, who led the study, began the research as a Ph.D. student at Georgia State. She collaborated with Drs. Franco Dispenza, Lindy Parker and Catherine Chang of Georgia State and Ms. Taffey Cunnien of Savannah College of Art and Design.

The prevalence of anxiety and loneliness on college campuses has increased, placing extra demands on college counseling centers. Budget strains have made it necessary for these centers to find creative ways to meet the needs of their students.

This study suggests animal-assisted therapy could be an effective way for college counseling centers to meet the growing demands of their students. It is one of the first to apply animal-assisted therapy in a group, college setting and use a systematic form of measurement.

“College counseling centers are also becoming more and more reflective of community mental health agencies,” Dispenza said. “That’s something that’s been noted in the field in probably the last 10 to 15 years. College counseling centers aren’t seeing students struggling with academics, which major to pick or how to study. They’re coming in with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, pervasive mood disorders and considerable contextual strains that are happening out in the world, such as poverty and experiences of homelessness, as well as a history of medical issues and family health issues.”

To become a registered therapy dog, the animal and handler must complete a series of evaluations and courses, which involve their grooming, temperament, previous training and relationship with their handler. Dogs can be ideal therapy animals because they have become so domesticated and the seeming ability to read cues between dogs and humans is probably the most pronounced. For instance, a dog can tell when a human is sad, Dispenza said.

“The presence of a therapy dog facilitates a therapeutic connection between the client and the mental health professional,” Parker said. “When you’re trying to do mental health work with someone, establishing that therapeutic relationship and rapport is so important. Any way to do it faster or more effectively only helps facilitate the therapeutic process.”

Source:  Georgia State University media release