Animal-assisted TherapyInfection

Animal-assisted therapy and infection risk

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston forbids pet visits, because of their concern about infection and allergic reactions. I’s a reasonable position. However, I am unable to find any reports where infections increased in hospitals when animal-assisted activity (AAA) or animal-assisted therapy (AAT) was used.

That’s not to say they don’t carry bacteria.

Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario tested 102 therapy dogs and found 80% of them carried bacteria that could be transferred to people, including E. coli and salmonella. Also, more than half carried the Clostridium difficile bacterial strain.

But there was no evidence that the dogs make patients ill, or whether the dogs pick up the bacteria from patients. If anything, the report shows the need to monitor hospital infection control practices.

A more recent study reported that after one year of dogs being present in the hospital for weekly visits, there was neither an increase in infections or microorganisms, nor contagious diseases transmitted by dogs during their presence in the hospital.

This is probably not happening by chance. Hospitals that permit AAA/T commonly have detailed regulations regarding their health status, and limit animals to selected areas of the hospital.

Illustration: Laboratorio Scuola

9/23/06 13:31 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.