Hospital Pet Visiting Programs Can Unleash Healing Powers

Kathleen Louden

March 07, 2013

In This Article

Preventing Problems

Mayo Clinic's personal pet visitation policy has been in place for at least 20 years at its Minnesota campus and is part of its Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, said program coordinator Barb Thomley. As is typical of hospital pet visiting programs, Mayo Clinic requires family and staff to obtain approval from the patient's attending physician, schedule the visit ahead of time so as not to conflict with clinical care, and limit the in-room visit to 2 hours so the patient does not become overly fatigued. The Mayo Clinic, which has similar programs at its Arizona and Florida campuses, does not allow pets to visit if the patient has open wounds that cannot be covered or the patient is immunocompromised.

Hospitals that allow pet visits, most often limited to a single dog or cat, have a long list of requirements for the visiting animal. Typically the pet must meet the following criteria:

be healthy and free of parasites,

have proof of up-to-date rabies vaccination,

be bathed and groomed within 24 hours of the visit,

not have been fed within 2 hours of the visit,

be transported in a carrier or on a leash,

have an accompanying adult handler at all times, and

not interact with other patients.

Some hospitals have additional requirements. For instance, the University of Maryland Medical Center asks that pets wear a coat or T-shirt to reduce shedding and dander. State laws on animal visits vary, with Minnesota not allowing animals younger than 1 year, according to the Mayo Clinic's policy.

Proper pet selection also is important for a safe visit. To ensure that a dog has a nonaggressive temperament, Rush University Medical Center has a staff member call the pet handler to ask whether the dog has ever growled at or bitten anyone, Gallagher said. A unit volunteer meets the pet handler and dog when they arrive at the hospital to make sure the animal is friendly. The hospital staff members inform the patient and pet handler that if the pet misbehaves or causes problems, the visit will end.

At Rush, as at other hospitals interviewed for this article, a designated staff person must stay with the pet throughout the visit. In addition, pets cannot have visiting hours in Rush's inpatient obstetrics and psychiatric units or the neonatal intensive care unit, Gallagher reported.