Health and safety policies for therapy animal visits vary widely

Published on July 26, 2017
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A survey of U.S. hospitals, elder care facilities, and therapy animal organizations revealed their health and safety policies for therapy animal visits varied widely, with many not following recommended guidelines for animal visitation.

Penny is a therapy dog with Tufts Paws for People. The organization follows strict guidelines to ensure the health and safety of humans and animals. (Photo by Dominick Reuter for Tufts University)

The research from investigators at Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at Tufts University appeared online in June ahead of print in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Researchers gathered responses from 45 elder care facilities, 45 hospitals, and 27 therapy animal organizations on policies related to animal health and behavioral prerequisites for therapy animals and animal-assisted intervention programs.

Among the findings, 4 percent of hospitals and 22 percent of elder care facilities had no policy whatsoever for AAI. Sixteen percent of hospitals and 40 percent of elder care facilities required only a minimal written health record for the therapy animal.

Seventy percent of therapy animal organizations allowed therapy animals to eat raw meat diets, which are at high risk of being contaminated with bacteria. Seven percent did not have a rabies vaccination requirement.

Dr. Deborah Linder, an author of the study, said in a statement: "The findings should serve as a call to action for hospitals, eldercare facilities and therapy animal organizations to strengthen the safety measures of their AAI programs and for those hosting visits to ask the right questions when arranging animal visitation on their sites. Education is key in ensuring that health and safety are the top priority for both humans and animals so the benefits of animal-assisted intervention may continue to outweigh the risks."

The AVMA has offered guidelines on animal-assisted interventions since 1999. In 2015, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America released guidelines on animal visitation in health care facilities. Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction offers a manual for hand­lers and therapy animals visiting all types of facilities.

Related JAVMA content:

Policies clarify animal-assisted interventions (June 1, 2015)