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:
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
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):
- It is NOT haraam to own a dog, though it is not hygienic to keep a dog in the house.
- 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.