More than a dozen hospitals in the United States and Canada are now allowing patients to have visits from their pets. The programs not only brighten patients' spirits, but hospitals are reporting that the pet visits can have dramatic effects on patient's health, recovery and emotional well-being.
Juravinski hospital in Ontario, Canada is one such hospital. The hospital recently adopted a program called Zachary’s Paws for Healing that allows pets to visit their owners and loved ones.
The program was started by Donna Jenkins after her 25-year-old nephew, Zachary, benefited greatly from visits by his dogs while he was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Jenkins told Bored Panda:
While Zachary was in the hospital for many weeks and very sick after having a stem cell transplant, he begged to see his dog, Chase. We sneaked Chase into ICU to see him and the effect it had on Zachary was remarkable. When Zachary realized he was not going to survive his cancer, he made me promise to start the organization. We had our official first patient visit September 15, 2015.
Pets in the program, which is currently the only such program in Canada, can visit their loved ones once a week for about an hour.
Pets are thoroughly cleaned before they are allowed in the hospital and are kept away from other patients.
Web MD reported on another such program in 2013:
Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, one of the latest hospitals to adopt a visiting policy for pets, had its first patient-owned pet visit in February. Sadie the dachshund climbed onto the lap of her owner, Bernadette Slesinski-Evans, who from her hospital bed happily let her dog lick her face.
In 2010, there were at least thirteen hospitals in the United States that had implemented pet visitation policies, and that number is growing. Web MD explains that all different types of hospitals are moving to allow pet visits:
Pet visitation programs are in place not only at large academic medical centers such as Cincinnati Children's, but also at rural hospitals such as Grinnell Regional Medical Center in Iowa. As part of an initiative to create a healing environment that includes nature, the pet-visiting program initially focused on hospice patients and expanded from there, says Todd Linden, president and chief executive officer.
Benefits of pet visits for patients can include:
- Improved vital signs
- Lowered blood pressure
- Less pain
- Improved mood
- Less depression
- Less stress and anxiety
- Lowered feelings of isolation
- Faster recovery time
- Better communication
- Encouragement for the patient to get well and return home
Doctors have known about the benefits of animals for quite some time. The Mayo Clinic says that animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems such as:
- Children having dental procedures
- People receiving cancer treatment
- People in long-term care facilities
- People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
- Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder
It's not only the patients who reap the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too. Animals also can be taught to reinforce rehabilitative behaviors in patients, such as throwing a ball or walking.
Supporters of pet visitation programs point out that many hospitals already have animal therapy programs where patients are visited by specially trained dogs and other animals. They say that those programs are beneficial but hospitals need to go beyond those and implement pet visitation programs as well, because patients prefer to see their own pets.