Hospitalized children may be scared and uncertain, and therapy animals can help ease their insecurities. But what is done to protect the humans—and the animals—from infectious diseases?
No question that pets provide many therapeutic benefits to patients and medical staff alike. Many animals can be therapy animals—dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, and even horses. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the multiple ways therapy animals promote healing and the immeasurable comfort that their presence can provide. However, questions arise about the health risks of bringing animals into a medical facility, especially with the onset of COVID-19.
“Some risks are associated with therapy animal visits, and the possibility of infection is something that always needs to be kept in mind,” Michelle Martonicz, the human half of a registered Pet Therapy Team at Phoenix Children's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, and Caymus, her 6-year-old Goldendoodle, told Infection Control Today® (ICT®). First and foremost, we must stay alert to our surroundings and the situations we can be exposed to regarding the type of patients we can be exposed to. The hospital takes great measures in proper signage on the doors to inform us whether the child is infectious or not.”
According to the American Association for Critical-Care Nurses, infection risks for COVID-19 in animals remain low. No animals should have any contact with patients infected with COVID-19. Other precautions can be taken to protect the risk of infections to patients, staff, and the pets themselves. These include:
There are safety factors to be considered; mainly, the pet should be kept on a leash, with an awareness of all tubes, monitors, and other equipment in the room. Dogs and other pets should not be encouraged to “give a paw” or “shake hands,” as the feet can be a harbinger of germs.
Martonicz explains the protocols that she and Caymus are required to follow. “We practice the following methods to help reduce the risk of infection for Caymus, myself, and the children we visit:
Martonicz told ICT® that the safety of the patients, parents, staff, Caymus, and herself is always foremost in her mind. “The standards and policies at Phoenix Children's Hospital are specifically designed to minimize risks, including the risk of infection, and to help make therapy animal visits as safe as possible. PCH and all of their Pet Therapy Teams feel the benefits of the human-animal bond are significant, and we all want to be sure every visit with a PCH child is safe and effective."