Hospital Pet Policy? Yes, You Can Bring Your Dog To The Hospital.

Over the last few years as a hospitalist I have had the honor of meeting some mighty fine service dogs in the hospital.  These amazing animals bring an incredible sense of happiness and independence to their chronically debilitated masters.  It's not only trained service dogs that bring such joy.   I've seen some amazing family pets, mostly dogs, brought to the bedside of the healing patient as well.

I'm a dog lover.  We call our Italian greyhounds, Marty and Cooper,  our little angels!  If I ever found myself sick enough to be in the hospital, I would hope my little pups would be allowed to visit me during my stressful times.  That begs the question to be asked?  What does your hospital pet policy say?  Can patients bring service dogs or other family pets to the bedside for some comforting animal assisted therapy?

That was a question I found myself asking the other day.  I know I'd seen pets in the hospital during the course of my normal work, but I'd never taken the time to understand what my hospital policy was. What if a patient asked me about our policy for allowing pets in the hospital?  I found myself searching for answers.

Some facilities may balk at the thought of allowing entry of pets into the hospital.  These folks don't understand the comforting power of pet therapy.  In fact, many hospitals offer animal therapy with designated dogs and their trained volunteers.  Should all pets be allowed into a patient's room?  Should only pets with proven immunization records by allowed entry?  Should size be a factor?  How about potty training status.  These are all reasonable questions to ask when introducing a family pet into a patient's period of recovery.

I took this time to review the pet policy at my own institution.  The first introductory paragraph detailed all the added benefits of allowing animals into the patient's healing process, noting that studies have shown improvement in patient cardiovascular parameters, muscle rigidity, social interaction and psychological well being.  My hospital went on to define three specific scenarios of having animals in the hospital.  These were:
  1. Animal Assisted Therapy (ATT), defined as a goal directed intervention involving a skilled handler and a trained animal to provide a therapy used to help the patient heal.
  2. Personal pet visitation, which I think is self explanatory.
  3. Service dogs, which are animals trained to provide assistance to disabled patients.
I presume animal assisted therapy involves organized pet therapy interventions.  These are the animals I have seen over the years.  As for the service dogs, some students have sued their University, and won, when their school refused to allow them to have their family pet in their dorm room.  These students filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by claiming their dog was necessary for their emotional well being.  The court agreed and provided students an opportunity to bring their family pet with them if they had physician documentation supporting this mental health need.

What about pets?  Should hospitals allow visitation rights to any family pet?  What are the restrictions or requirements?  It's an important topic to review. Many patients may find allowing their pets at the bedside to be a great patient satisfaction issue.  With Medicare reducing payments to hospitals that fail to keep their patients happy, I suspect most hospitals will allow families to bring pets to the bedside.

Unfortunately, many doctors may not be happy having pets around their post operative site.   The way I see it, many patients go home and physicians have no control over what their pets do. Many patients have been around their pets for years and are not at risk of contracting a communicable disease.  In fact, I suspect, patients are more likely to get a surgical site infection from doctors and nurses who don't wash their hands than they are from a family pet.   Many nurses may not want a pet in the room disrupting their work flow.

As a pet lover and believer in the value of pet therapy, I was happy to see my hospital allows pets at the bedside, with some reasonable restrictions, including:
  • The pet must be accompanied an adult who will take responsibility for the pet.  I said responsible adult.  Remember that.
  • Pets will be limited to dogs, cats and rabbits, to the exclusion of amphibians, birds and non-human primates due to the increased risk of disease transmission.  That means you have to leave your pet monkey at home. 
  • Pets should not be near the beside of neutropenic patients, undergoing solid organ transplant or bone marrow transplant, burn patients or critically ill patients. In my opinion, I think some family should not be allowed near them either. 
  • Pet's must be housebroken.  This rule does not apply to family, only the pets.
  •  Vaccination records should be current.  If you are an antivaxxer, please keep fido away from our hospital. 
  • Animals must be well groomed and free of skin leasons, ticks and fleas.  Again, I don't believe this rule applies to family members, but I might be wrong.  
  • Disruptive and aggressive pets will be asked to leave.  Disruptive patients and their families, on the other hand will be offered free meal tickets and a carton of cigarettes as arbitration.  You know, to keep them happy.   
In addition, I learned no physician order is required by me for my patients to be allowed visitation by their pet dogs, cats or rabbits. I think that's appropriate. I don't need to give the OK when less than sanitary family  visits grandma in the hospital after her cholecystectomy.

I don't think my patients' dogs or cats are any more likely to make my patients sick in the hospital than they are at home.  I have no control over their actions once they leave the hospital.  Perhaps ObamaCare has given us a right to remove pets from the homes of our patients as a readmission prevention measure.  I'll have to look into that.  I think our failures in hand washing as doctors and nurses are more dangerous than any cute little puppy or kitty Mrs Smith can bring to the bedside. In fact, the next phase of ObamaCare mandates that all visiting pets achieve greater than 90% on their satisfaction scores as well.  Welcome to the hospital Fido, can I get you a warm towel and some biscuits? 


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