Aug 2, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Think dogs don’t belong in hospitals? Think again. According to a growing body of anecdotal evidence collected by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), animal visitors can play a vital role in promoting recovery, as reported by BBC.com. Here’s a closer look at the findings, along with a research project underway aimed at sharing best practices for “pet protocol” regarding animals and healthcare environments.

Therapy Animals and Beyond

“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,” reveals BBC.com. From therapy dogs helping to calm young cancer patients during life-saving procedures to a pet donkey which helped its owner recover balance and mobility following a brain injury, the potential of animals to help patients get better is profound, insist advocates.

And yet, despite the abundance of stories like these, pets are not allowed on most hospital wards, clinics, and hospices due to concerns about the spread of infections and other “myths” about the dangers of animals.

Collecting Evidence Toward Raised Awareness

In an effort to improve understanding of the benefits and challenges of dogs and other animals in hospitals, researchers at Southampton Children's Hospital are assembling a set of simple guidelines which could be adopted by healthcare facilities. These include booking specific appointments at specific times to prevent animals from roaming from patient to patient; ensuring that all vaccinations are current, and even cleaning paws with hospital grade wipes.

And while the conversation is largely focused on what pets can do for people, experts say people may also play an equally vital role for their pets. Explains dog handler Lyndsey Uglow, “To really find out the true value of therapy visits and to firmly establish it as beneficial in healthcare, we have to strengthen the evidence behind it….Our starting point is the impact of dogs with children but the same principles could, over time, be mirrored into other departments and into veterinary healthcare - for example, if animals recover better in a veterinary hospital or with their human family and if family visits aid animal recovery."

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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