Animal Therapy Saves Lives

Unless we live in caves, we have all heard of therapy animals; some even make it into the news. Dogs, cats, miniature horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, even crickets, can serve to lower blood pressure and heart disease risk, and even improve mental health.It has now been scientifically proven that therapy animals can bring happiness, relaxation, and in the case of personal pets, the responsibility of caring for another living being. All these things can contribute to emotional health. Anxiety plays a large role in overall health, and in the hospital, this is more prevalent than ever, and not just with patients, but with family and even staff. “Published studies show that paws have a place in medicine and in mental well-being”. 

Hospitals are beginning to allow animals inside their walls as more than just service dogs, which has been allowed for many years. Some are now allowing personal pets to visit, especially in the case of long-term hospitalizations or as part of hospice care. Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is also becoming prevalent as health specialists are becoming moreaware of its benefit. This is a structured program involving hospital personnel, or possibly trained volunteers, to screen the animals for appropriateness and safety. First and foremost, dogs should be well behaved and good around strangers. They must be house-trained, up-to-date on immunizations, have a trained handler, and be clean.A perpetual concern about animals in hospitals is the risk of infection, so strict guidelines must be in place and followed.

One controversy surrounding therapy animals in health institutions is their diet. Feeding dogs a rawdiet is an increasingly popular practice among health-conscious dog owners. Although many positives to the animal’s health are to be found, the biggest issue is that pathological microorganisms, such as salmonella and listeria, are shed in the stool, causing a potential health hazard to people exposed to the animal. According to research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “raw food poses a substantial risk of infectious disease to the pet, the pet’s environment, and the humans in the household.”Some don’t agree, and the debate continues.

There is no doubt about the benefits of AAT, but is it only beneficial to patients? What about families and staff? Stress within acute hospital settings is palpable, no matter what kind of hat you wear. According to a 2018 study, hospitals turned over about 85.2 of their workers since 2013, and healthcare is the second highest profession for turnovers. It would seem to behoove hospitals to be a little more creative in their retention approaches, and how innovative would it be to add regular visits from furry friends? What about kennels attached to hospitals? That could relieve a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety from patients and staff alike who worry about their pets being home alone all day. They have day care centres; why not kennels? After all, our pets are part of our families. Retain staff and relax patients; what’s the downside?

How would you feel about animals being a source of revenue for hospitals? With Healthcare costs spiraling and hospitals searching for ways to better their bottom lines, would it be wrong to add a session with a pet therapy animal before patients go to the hair stylist in the hospital? How about that kennel, for a fee? People have choices about where to work, and where they want to be hospitalized, in most cases. Adding pet therapy services for patients and staff, or maybe even a pet grooming before their humans leave the hospital, could be a boon to patient health and hospital health alike.


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