By Amy McCullough, PhD, Ashleigh Ruehrdanz, MPH, & Molly Jenkins, MSW of American Humane Association (originally published in HABRI Central Briefs)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015), over 35 million people are hospitalized in the U.S. every year. Many hospitals across the country have incorporated animal programs, such as “animal-assisted therapy” (AAT), “animal-assisted activities” (AAA), “animal-assisted interactions or interventions” (AAI), resident animals, or pet visitation to give patients the opportunity to interact safely with dogs and to make the hospital environment more comfortable and less stressful.
However, there is a lack of information regarding exactly how many hospitals offer these services and how they operate, including what areas or units of the hospital the therapy dogs are allowed to visit, how many therapy dogs visit the hospitals, what dog breeds are permitted, how often visits occur and for how long, and what other species of animals are allowed to participate. There may be a variety of reasons why a hospital chooses to restrict therapy dogs in their facility, such as allergies, immunocompromised patients, and fear of increasing infectious disease rates, but the details of hospital inclusion and exclusion criteria for animals have yet to be systematically investigated.
This article gives an overview of the practice of therapy dogs in hospitals, reviews a selection of recent research findings in this setting and finally, identifies gaps or issues to be further addressed regarding research and practice in this area.