Should Dogs Be Allowed in Hospitals?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Dog Running Image

Over the past couple of decades it has become increasingly common to find dogs lounging around offices during work hours. Now our furry friends are making their way into some hospitals around the U.S.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that 17 percent of all companies allow pets in the workplace, and 23 percent of workers believe that pets should be allowed in the workplace. A Virginia Commonwealth University study found that dogs in the workplace can lead to reduced stress and increased job satisfaction.

Even though hospitals aren’t your ordinary workplace, dogs are becoming more common on medical campuses across the U.S. for both therapy and security purposes. However, the jury is still out on whether dogs are a clean addition to hospitals or if they present a risk to patients.

Security Dogs

Security magazine recently released an interview with Rick Ortiz, Security Director/Banner Health Security K9 Unit Director. Ortiz uses K9 security every day at Banner Health facilities in Arizona and Colorado, and the healthcare company has been using dogs as a form of security since 1995.

Ortiz says that his K9 force provides “an alternative to arming security officers, thus giving us a non-lethal force.” The dogs patrol the campuses to deter criminal activity and some also are used to assist in looking for suspicious packages.

Ortiz also says other health systems across the U.S. are interested in his program and often contact him for information on how the K9 security force works. He adds that although patients and new visitors initially may be surprised by the presence of dogs, most warm up to the animals and many tend to begin to view the K9 force as therapy dogs.

Therapy Dogs in Hospitals

Official therapy dogs are also becoming a more common sight in many hospitals, and some medical facilities are even allowing long-term patients to bring their own pets to visit them in their hospital rooms.

National Geographic reports that evidence of “positive responses to such animal-assisted therapy has mostly been anecdotal. But a recent study on elderly nursing home patients now offers scientific support that brief weekly visits from man’s best friend can have a positive therapeutic impact.”

The same article talks about a golden retriever named Bo that has visited patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for the past three years as part of the POOCH (Pets Offer Ongoing Care and Healing) program. Bo not only visits patients, but also helps families in waiting rooms temporarily take their minds away from their troubles.

Keeping It Clean

Bo’s owner, Marcia Strum, notes that Bo can only visit every other week, however, as he has to be thoroughly scrubbed before heading to the hospital, and more frequent washings would lead to skin problems.

Which brings up the cleanliness issue.

The New York Times reports on a Canadian study showing that dogs can easily transmit germs between patients. The study explored dogs’ capacity to carry and spread germs in the hospital: “Compared to human visitors, animals typically visit a larger number of patients and staff members and walk bare-pawed on hospital corridors, possibly making them more likely to pick up germs.”

Although this stresses the importance of our own regular hand washing at work, it also raises a question of whether the risk of spreading germs outweighs the benefits dogs offer patients.

We present the issue to you: What are your experiences with dogs guarding hospitals or visiting patients? If your workplace doesn’t allow pets, do you think it would be a good idea? Let us know in the comments below!


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

SHARE

35 COMMENTS

  1. I trained as a nurse to assist patients to get better. I do believe that pets can make patients feel better. but as someone who is allergic to dogs. I don’t believe it is ok to expect me to take care of people who are bringing animals to my workplace that I am allergic to. Will those families be paying for my medications, or trips to the allergist so I can continue to take care of them?

  2. I do not think dogs should be allowed in the acute hospital setting due to infection control and the fact that we already have a problem with patients getting hospital acquired infections. I have seen benefits of therapy dogs in long term care especially with the patient with dementia. In this setting, there is always a handler present. I don’t like to see animals brought on airplanes either as there are many people with allergies that can not avoid being in the presence of an animal.

  3. I was a patient in the hospital way too much when I went through mastectomies for cancer and all the fun of the chemotherapy. I do not own a dog and really don’t want an animal in my home. However, on one of my many lengthy stays, I was asked if I would like a visit from the therapy dogs visiting that day. I initially said no, but the called the nurse and said I would just like them to “stop by”. They stopped at my door and asked if that was close enough or did I want them to come in. The pets were well behaved and immaculately groomed. I remember thinking the one had a coat that looked like silk. I asked to pet them. They gave me hand sanitizer before I touched the dog. Just that warm soft touch really lifted my spirits. When I was done I thanked them and as they were leaving they again held out the hand sanitizer for me to use. I think animals in hospitals are like everything in medicine. What works for one patient may not work for others. So flexibility is the best to help the patients. You put guidelines and restrictions on visiting animals just like you do everything in a hospital.

  4. I am a nurse highly allergic to dogs and cats. No one seems to consider that. Allergic reactions can make you very ill and often be fatel.
    Sorry, animals should not be allowed in so many public places.

  5. A friend of mine was in the hospital dying. His closest companions were his dogs. The nurse said the dogs could visit if their shots were up to date and the vet confirmed this. This man was so happy to see his dogs, who, by the way were brought up through the maintenance entrance. After the visit, my friend said, “Ok, I’m ready.” That was a blessing to witness, and it was so thoughtful of the nurse who made it possible.

  6. I love dogs, I own 4, and call them my 4 legged children. However, I am still torn about them in hospitals. Yes, interacting with dogs benefit the patients. My worry is infection control. I am not worried about the dogs giving something to a patient. I worried that as they go from room to room they may spread an infection from patient to patient. I have seen family members bring the patients dogs to visit them, and it definitely lifts their spirits. But I also see the dog laying on the hospital floor, or even worse decide to lay down in the hallway floor as the person they are with stops to talk. I worry about what they are taking home, especially if there are children at home. I leave my shoes in the garage after a twelve hour shift, cause I can only imagine what kind of germs must be on the after going from room to room.
    Which do I like better animals or people?
    On most days animals.

  7. I agree that therapy dogs , K9 dogs and family dogs should be able to be in hospitals. Look at some of the visitors who enter our doors!

  8. I read the article and it very interesting. I have always been a dog lover and have a dog most of my life. One portion of the article concerned the dirtiness of the paws. There are such things as shoes for dogs. It wails not be inconceivable for a dog owner or the hospital to provide disposable shoes for the dog to have changed between patients. After all that’s what humans do going from surgery room to surgery room. The dogs could also be given a gown to wear if going to different rooms, just like humans. It’s not a difficult thing to figure out. Science has proven that petting a dog lowers blood pressure. Children respond with decreased fear. Patients recover quickly when allowed to have the comforting presence of a dog.

    Common sense needs to be in place. But allow these wonderful animals have a place in healthcare. While working in hospice for 14 years, I saw more than once how the presence of a dying patients’ dog in their bed suddenly bring peace and comfort to the patient. Remember this: Dog is God spelled backwards.

  9. some of the comments are amazing to me. I entered hospice care 11 years ago with the express purpose of doing whatever it takes to keep my patient comfortable and help them have the best rest of their life that they can have. And we frequently use animals to accomplish that. All the nonsense of an animal spreading diseases is just that nonsense! Allergies is a thing, but if one really cares about the comfort and quality of care of their patients they will open their eyes and help the patient achieve a quality of life!

  10. No. In the acute care setting it is not appropriate. We had a patient with an infection, with his own “therapy dog”. He then would take the dog out to the grass & back in. It would jump on people & run in the hall. Maybe a rehab facility would be okay.

  11. I am a huge believer that animals, especially dogs, should be in parts of the healthcare system. I am a nurse, a dog owner(rescue pups of course), volunteer with a rescue and have dealt with many different kinds of dogs. If someone is extremely sensitive to infection, then access should be extremely limited on all fronts. The dogs aren’t in a sterile environment, like the OR. I also believe that the dog should be vaccinated and be a dog that doesn’t have behavioral issues. I have also written a couple of research papers dealing with this exact topic.
    I was a patient for 2 weeks in the hospital. It sucked. I was hurting. The medical staff were wonderful but the best part of my stay, other then going home, was the few visits that I had from the therapy dogs. They made me feel better. Which was hard at the time. I am 100% with allowing the dogs, with parameters of course.

  12. Our hospital has therapy dogs come in from time to time, and first off, there is always an owner with them. These comments about “dogs roaming the facility” are a bit blizzard because I don’t think anyone is suggesting that in a hospital. By having the owner there, the dogs never enter any isolation rooms, and would always ask at the door before entering. They also ask at the nurses station which patients would most benefit from a visit. These dogs (in NY state atleast) must go through vigorous training put out by the AKC, and be certified “canine good citizens” so not just any dog can come in. This tests human interactions, dog interactions, leaving pills on the floor, and about 9 tests total over several months to years. If the dog ever growls or becomes rowdy, it fails. Furthermore, I have noticed staff becoming better with hand hygiene when the therapy dog comes on the unit, and the owners actually carry hand sanitizer with them for before and after contact with the dog.

  13. Yes, dogs should be allowed in hospitals. Dogs have been found to have wonderful effects on both patients and staff. Our hospital allows therapy dog visits and has guidelines for their handlers to follow, such as no isolation rooms and asking the patient if they would like a furry visitor. Proper hand washing after touching the pup is followed by both the staff and patients. Everyone enjoys the visits, especially the pediatric unit.

  14. I think in the right situation it is a definite benefit!!! Yes we need to be sensitive to everyone else’s views; but the animals are a positive addition to anyone’s day. I always smile when I go into Home depot or Lowe’s and I see someone’s dog in the cart. The dogs are always well behaved and are eager to get a pat on the head from everyone who walks by. Patient’s need a distraction form why they are there sometimes and a visit from a dog is just what is needed. I had my own personal experience with this in February this year; my dad was in the hospital and he ended up having a debilitating stroke. I knew he was not going to recover and he could only move his head and look at me, I was heart broken because I knew he wanted to see his dog cashew. We were told we could not bring cashew into the hospital so we had to move him to hospice which was hard on him so that we could bring his dog in to see him before he passed. When cashew came into the room and we put him on the bed I could tell my dad was happy. If we could’ve done that at the hospital it would have saved him the pain of moving him and the stress. I think done correctly dogs in the hospital are a true benefit.

  15. In the movie starring Matt Damon:We bought a zoo, the question was asked,which do you like better,people or animals ? the answer was “people”,me too replied the questioner. Our whole family nodded and applaud when we saw,(were a very large medical family).

  16. In the words of Matt Damon movie “we bought a Zoo”…. the one character asked the other, “which do you like better,people or animals?” the character asked said,people.”me too” said the questioner.

  17. When my husband was in long term rehab for a brain injury I took our dog to visit him weekly. The nurses and other patients loved seeing him, he brought smiles to many faces and no one once complained. He was instrumental in helping my husband to heal and that was of majorimportance to me. So yes dogs belong in patient care in many situations

  18. During my days as a greyhound owner (retired racers), I would often take my big boy Dodger to my work place (a local hospital) to visit a friend of mine when my friend was a patient. The nurses on the floor knew me, knew my friend, knew my dog, and the bond my friend and the dog had. Dodger was always welcome, Security staff never said a word, nor did infection control staff. Dodger and I would walk thru the front door of the hospital, ride the elevator to the designated floor, walk into our friend’s room and watch him grin from ear to ear, calling Dodger to him. Dodger would walk over to our friend, who by the way had severe lung disease, thin easily torn skin from all the steroid therapy, and the shaky hands of an elder person. Dodger was young, energetic, goofy, and could get rowdy. But he was always easy with our friend, laying his head on our friend’s lap. Dodger’s visits always brightened our friend’s day, leaving our friend with a huge smile on his face. The staff always welcomed us, visitors were always receptive and amazed. Yeah, Dodger licked his rear, his paws, my face, my feet, but the smile he left on our friend’s face was worth every bit of it. Our friend never “caught” anything from Dodger, and our friend was the only patient we visited. Before we made the visit, we called the nurses working that particular day, to get an ok from them. I was always given a “Come on girl! He’s been talking about you and Dodger all day!” So yeah, bring them pooches on in the hospital. Kids, family, visitors, and staff love it.

  19. I feel that if a pet is clean, vaccinated and minds his or her manners it does indeed help the psyche of patients. many of my patients are deemed “untouchable” due to horrific wounds……it is nice to think our friends with fur don’t care, they just love. I have read many of the statements above, I think it is wise if the parents of the furry friends must make sure the patient or staff wants the affection of their friend. of course they must be on a leash, that is a must.
    I feel folks feel more at home and normal if love giving animals come to visit. I know I would.

  20. I think they do serve a purpose in certain settings. People in hospitals now a days are very ill, I don’t think they need dogs around if they are roaming freely. If they are brought in by a handler who will assess the situation first, then perhaps. Also that handler will keep an eye on their behaviors. I am an animal lover to the max but they are animals….they can still resort to animal behaviors, despite how domesticated they are. And some times you don’t even know what set them off. And when it comes to getting food or water or what ever they decide they want, they really don’t use manners, they just go for it. Now in rehab situations I think there is a benefit but again, they need a handler. I like them in nursing homes too but…again with a handler. I am a perfectly healthy fully sighted person and I can get tripped up on my pets. And yes they are going to carry germs from one place to another, as well as leave some hair and drool where they have been. I say it is pretty much a bad idea in certain acute care settings.

  21. At a major pediatric hospital we did extensive research way back in the 1980″s prior to allowing therapy dogs to visit patients.
    So this is not a new idea or trend. Our data showed that there was no correlation between infections and therapy/family dog monitored visits. The benefits clearly outweighed the negatives.
    Simple notifications to the public and patients that “today is therapy dog visit day” can hep those who do not wish to be exposed or are allergic.
    Dogs are reflection of their owners – some good some bad. But are usually very sensitive to clues from other people who do not want them to do certain unacceptable things – like jump, lick, scratch etc. Learn how to interact with all God’s creatures successfully it can help you to interact with your Patients Also!

  22. Please! I see patients in their homes and regularly have to tell them it is not ok for their dogs to climb on me, scratch me, or put their head between my legs. Can’t we leave the animals out of the healthcare setting?

  23. I am very allergic to dogs and cats. I was at the VA a week ago when a vet with a therapy dog entered the waiting area. I had to leave the room because I started wheezing and sneezing. That was just one incident I’ve experienced. Cats and dogs seem to be everywhere, hotels, grocery stores and the mall. i have to keep my Epi Pen with everywhere I go because I never know.

    • Though I am just now seeing this topic in my email from modernnurse i have yet to see anyone reply to the concern for allergies post. Like others have said cats and dogs are in many public spots now so adaptation is essential. Also use of pet therapy is also occurring not just in those with PTSD but in those with seizure, diabetes, hearing and autism and down syndrome disorders. Someone I knew had allergy shots for cats which helped him no longer manifest such a strong reaction so maybe there is something available in allergy shots for those allergic to dogs. You are smart yo carry your epi pen but I would hope a rescue inhaler as well to use first but preparation in other ways like allergy shots is getting better. Keep trying.

  24. I think that, once established that the pet will be safe in said environment, there is no reason that the pet shouldn’t be brought in. I have worked in settings, with and without access to pets, and have found that my patients are much more willing to work with staff if they have had a chance to visit with a pet. I don’t know about long term stays, due to some of the above mentioned issues, i.e. allergies, but I definitely think that dogs and even cats should be a part of a patient’s health care, especially if it is the patient’s pet. A dog is no dirtier than a human being, if well cared for (cleaner than some humans that I have taken care of! LOL)

  25. Funny..people go to hospitals.. get infection..worse off than when they went in! Hospital staff/workers don’t always practice good hygiene. Kids are Germ buckets..just like adults. Dogs are clean if u keep them clean.

  26. How do you think MSRA and VRE get passed around a hospital. Humans Professionals and Doctors not washing hands and then we have family coming and going that are not washing hands and not all bath daily. Head lice etc
    If a family dog and that family member has build immunization system with the dog germs, and if the dog or cat is health and help the patient mental status to get better faster and out of the hospital sooner. So be it.

  27. No, I do not think dogs , or yes even cats, I’ve seen should be allowed in hospitals or rehab centers, unless an individual has to use as seeing eye dog. Some individuals are very allergic, and it have a fear of dogs, and some is to try to provide best environment for healing/recovery. I personally am not a huge animal lover, if you like a gig and want one that’s fine have one, but when it is brought into my place of work, and I happen to be scheduled to be working with said patient at that time, I am forced to deal with the dog. Some owners are good about making their dog behave, sit, not bark or jump up on people etc, but others don’t seem to care and think that if they love dogs everyone does.

  28. Of course dogs should be allowed in!!! Why do we allow kids in? You show me one infection that can be traced back to a dog. The have lived with people for centuries. I have never seen anything so stupid as how the US discriminates against dogs (and cats for that matter) In Germany they are allowed everywhere. WAKE UP! Dear loss for words: you are more dangerous to a patient than a dog.

  29. Have we lost our minds?? What about patients with allergies to dogs… even if briefly exposed? Dogs lick their butt and then the patient…I am at a loss for words. ?

LEAVE A REPLY