In recent years, a lot of research has examined the health benefits of owning a pet. From improving heart health to lowering stress levels, pet ownership has shown a variety of promising benefits. The results of these studies have opened doors for pets that had previously been considered off-limits hospitals.
A small but increasingly growing number of U.S. hospitals have started to expand their visitation policies to allow pets to come to see family members. One of the most recent, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, spent three years developing their visitation program before allowing their first furry visit in early February. Despite the logistical problems presented by allowing a pet into a hospital environment, hospital administrators have to become increasingly convinced that therapeutic rewards offered by animal visitation makes the process worthwhile.
Benefits to Patients
A growing amount of research has shown that patients experience increased feelings of hope and joy when around their pets. By allowing pet visitations, hospital administrators believe they offer a tangible way to help lower patients’ anxiety and stress levels.
In addition to these benefits, a review of a number of other studies published in the American Journal of Critical Care has shown that animal-assisted therapy offers a number of psychological and physical benefits, including increased happiness, improved motivation, lowered blood pressure, and decreased physical pain.
While some hospitals already offer therapy dogs to improve patient mood, proponents of pet visitation programs argue that hospitals need to expand their policies because patients prefer visits from their own pets. This can be especially true for patients suffering from depression or who have life-threatening illnesses.
A pioneer in the benefits of pet visitation, the Mayo Clinic has had a pet visitation policy in place for over 20 years. As part of the program, families must first get approval from a patient’s doctor prior to having a pet make a visit. Once approved, the visit must be limited to a patient’s room and should not exceed two hours in order to prevent patient fatigue. The clinic, however, does not permit visitation if a patient suffers from a low immune system or has open wounds that cannot be satisfactorily covered.
Most other hospitals that have pet visitations programs in effect require that families meet a number of qualifications to allow a pet into a hospital room. Most pets must meet such standards as:
- Healthy and parasite-free
- Current rabies vaccination
- Groomed or bathed within a 24-hour period prior to a visit
- Not fed within two hours of a visit
- Transported in a carrier or on a leash
- Accompanied by a hander at all times
- Not allowed to have other patient interaction
Depending on the hospital, other limitations may also be in places, such as a requirement that a pet wears a shirt or coat while in the hospital to prevent excess shedding and dander. Some states, like Minnesota, prohibit pet visitation of animals under the age of one. Dog breed and temperament are among the other factors that a hospital may consider before approving a pet visit.