Animal Magic – Keeping humans happy, healthy and safe

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Keeping humans happy, healthy and safe


There are excellent guidelines and practical advice available so we’ll keep it short here. We’d particularly recommend the State Hospital Scotland’s advice, as they are a high security mental health hospital doing really wonderful work with patients and animals. One big part of the success of their programme is that they work closely with the infection control nurse:

“I am impressed that there are procedures in place for infection control and prevention, namely warning signs, segregation, hygiene measures, disposal of animal waste, cleaning and disinfection, immunisation and protocol for reporting injury.” SID CHEUK, Infection Control Nurse

There are also really helpful details in hospital policies.

A lovely clear summary for dogs and cats is provided by Cheshire & Wirral:

The animal must:-

  • Be an adult.
  • Be house trained.
  • Be regularly de-wormed.
  • Receive regular flea treatments.
  • Be vaccinated and these vaccinations kept up to date – certification must have been checked by the organisation e.g. Pets as Therapy.
  • Not visit if unwell.
  • Be kept away from other patients who may have allergies or phobias.
  • Staff/patients must wash their hands after handling the animal.

A few other good practice basics from the also excellent policy from Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber:

  • The animal should only be allowed in non-clinical areas, and NEVER be allowed in the kitchen or clinical areas.
  • The animal should be fed only proprietary brands of pet food. It should have its own  food and water dishes and be fed in a suitable  non-clinical  area, eg dayroom.
  • Pet foods should be stored separately to food for humans, be prepared and served with separate utensils which are then washed separately in neutral detergent and hot water, eg in the sluice.
  • Pet baskets and/or bedding should be laundered and washed regularly and separately from other laundry, by the pet owner.
  • If any patients are known to have an allergy to animals, the pet visit MUST take place in a separate room (preferably one not normally frequented by patients)
  • The room MUST be thoroughly cleaned and/or vacuumed afterwards.
  • Pet visits must not be allowed if the animal is ill or has diarrhoea.
  • The pet must be exercised prior to the visit to lesson the risk of elimination on site.
  • Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times and remain under supervision of the person bringing it to the visit.
  • Staff must refrain from holding pets against their uniform. However where this is unavoidable disposable aprons should be worn.
  • Disposable gloves and plastic aprons must be worn by the pet handler when cleaning up animal urine and faeces.
  • All waste material should be disposed of immediately as clinical waste – in a sealed yellow clinical waste bag

Rose Gallagher, MBE, Professional lead Infection prevention and Control at Royal College of Nursing:

The inclusion of animals to support care and rehabilitation is well documented and used in both hospital and on-hospital settings.  The value of this therapy should be recognised and is acceptable from an infection prevention and control perspective providing some simple principles are adhered to. 

In hospital settings there is usually a policy to support and enable pets/animals that takes into account the welfare of the animal as well as the patient and staff/visitors who may come in contact with the animal. Local policies should always be adhered to.

Generally speaking the infection risks are very low as animals used for pet therapies are well trained and are up to date with vaccinations and worming regimes. Assistance dogs are also well managed however risks may occur if the owner is in pain (as in when these are used in maternity settings) or the animal senses their owners distress. Under such circumstances a local risk assessment should be undertaken and the patient offered accommodation, such as single rooms and staff briefed etc.  

From an infection prevention perspective a few simple principles will support good practice.  These include:

  • Reducing the amount of staff contact with the animal
  • Hand hygiene before and after contact with the animal if required
  • Up to date worming and vaccination
  • Not allowing the animal if it is unwell
  • Regular toileting
  • Specific consideration should be given if the patient is MRSA positive – the carriage of MRSA in animals such as cats and dogs is documented and represents ‘normal family flora’ due to a shared household.  In such circumstances the advice of the infection control team should be sought.
  • The patients room is maintained in a clean condition

Although there are no national guidelines in the UK, in America The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) has very helpful guidance for hospitals in relation to animals, including for animal therapy, particularly in relation to keeping patients safe from problems such as infections, bites and allergic reactions.


Religious and cultural considerations

People from some religious or cultural communities have particular concerns about some animals. For example, Jews and Muslims are forbidden from eating pig because pigs are regarded as unclean. For many, particularly less religious/observant Jews and Muslims, this doesn’t extend to simply being around pigs, but for many any contact is unwelcome or even aversive and upsetting. A more common issue is with dogs which many Muslims regard as ‘haraam’ (forbidden.) It’s so problematic generalising about any issue in any religion but it’s important to be aware that while many Muslim families adoringly share their homes and lives with dogs, others find it totally unacceptable even to be in the same room as a dog. There’s a very helpful article here which includes these points (which, it must be said, are still contentious):

  1. It is NOT haraam to own a dog, though it is not hygienic to keep a dog in the house.
  2. It is NOT haraam to touch a dog or any other animal. If the saliva of a dog touches you or any part of your clothing, then it is required of you to wash the body part touched and the item of clothing touched by the dog’s mouth or snout.


Please see the assistance dogs page for issues about guide dogs and religious considerations.

Categories: Animal Magic