Should More Hospitals Allow Dogs to Visit?

Nurses say dogs visiting hospitals is helpful to patients. . Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

It's common knowledge that pets help reduce stress and are good for human health. The practice of allowing therapy dogs into hospital settings leans on this fact, with dogs helping to cheer up patients or reduce the anxiety they may be feeling before tests or operations. However, not every hospital welcomes animals.

Should dogs be allowed in more places in hospitals?

For the Royal College of Nursing in the U.K., the answer is definitely yes. The benefits of their presence in bringing joy and calm to patients all helps to speed along recovery, and nurses with the RCN have anecdote after anecdote of the healing power of pooches.

BBC Health reports, "In a recent RCN survey of 750 nursing staff, 82% said animals could help patients be more physically active and 60% said they believed animals improved physical recovery. But many nurses said animals were not allowed where they worked. The main reasons behind this, according to Amanda Cheesley, who is putting together nationwide guidelines on animals in hospitals, are concerns that furry companions spread infections and other 'myths around the dangers' of allowing animals on wards."

While there are thousands of stories of animals helping patients, there's a dearth of research to show the benefits of dogs outweighs the risks of having them in this setting. To solve this problem, dog handler Lyndsey Uglow launched a research project at Southampton Children's Hospital.

"Together with Ms. Uglow, the Humanimal Trust, infection control specialists and hospital managers, the RCN aims to put together simple rules that could work across wards, clinics and hospices," reports BBC.

The work to allow more dogs in more hospital wards could benefit not only patients, but doctors, too. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania launched a "Pet A Pooch" program in 2013 that lets nurses and doctors cuddle rescue animals from the SPCA during their break times.

"Although therapy dogs are already widely used to help patients, military veterans, and others, this new partnership with SPCA brings these animals in to relieve the anxiety sometimes felt by doctors, nurses, and other staff caring for patients ... The program is among the first in the country to utilize animals to relieve employee stress," reports Penn Medicine News.