Pets should be allowed to visit owners in hospital, and animal therapy offered to patients to boost mental and physical health, the Royal College of Nurses says.
The college, based in the UK and representing nurses in Great Britain, is urging new guidelines that will for the first time encourage hospitals to be more welcoming to four-legged friends, and to introduce “animal-assisted therapy” to calm the nerves of anxious patients.
A survey of 750 nurses found almost half had worked with animals – including ponies and chipmunks, as well as cats and dogs – at some point in their careers. In total, 82 per cent said that animals – dogs in particular – encouraged patients to be more physically active, while nearly 60 per cent said their presence appeared to speed physical recovery.
However, one in four nurses said all animals were banned by their current employer – most often, on the grounds they could spread infection.
The Royal College said the NHS should do more to respect the wishes of animal lovers.
Amanda Cheesley, RCN professional lead for long-term conditions, said allowing pets in hospitals could ease patients’ anxiety which in turn could help the recovery process.
If a patient is phobic of needles it can help if their dog could go down with them to the operating theatre, and be there at the point before they have their injection.
Hospitals have been very reluctant to allow dogs in, whether it’s about fear of infection or about other patients being frightened
Clearly those things have to be taken into account but it doesn’t seem unreasonable for an elderly lady recovering from a hip operation to be wheeled out to meet her dog, or for him to be brought to her, to say hello.”
The college is developing a national protocol, which will set out the considerations which should be made before decisions are taken, including management of infection risks.
Clearly, you can’t allow dogs onto the beds, or to wander from room to room, you need to make sure they have had their innoculations, but it should be possible to bring more animals into healthcare settings
Cheesley said the guidance would encourage wider use of “animal therapy”
We know that for certain patients – such as those with dementia – stroking a dog, a cat, or a rabbit, can take them to a happier point in their lives.”
Such sessions had also been shown to be helpful to those with a range of mental health problems, and to ease anxiety in children, said the senior nurse.
I used to take my Great Dane with me when I was a district nurse and he could put a smile on any patient’s face.”
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation trust has just begun a study to see whether therapy dogs can help children to recover from treatment.
Five dogs have been sent into two hospitals, to explore the impact of the emotional bond on young children.