Evidence of health benefits of pets is strong, plentiful and consistent based on many studies. People of all ages — children, adults and seniors — bond with their pet companions and reap the health benefits. As a result of continuing research, pets are becoming active participants in patients’ treatment plans. Some people have such a strong bond with their pets that they forego medical treatment, refuse hospitalization or shorten a hospital stay because they do not want to be away from their pets.
An increasing number of hospitals have adopted pet-friendly policies that allow a patient to have pet visitation rights during the hospital stay. The requirements vary, so it’s important to do your research. For example, some hospitals require a doctor’s note, others require permission from the unit supervisor or nursing coordinator. Additional requirements may include documentation that the pet is up-to-date on vaccinations, and that the pet stay in the patient’s room and a handler must be in the room at all times. Other guidelines apply, but more doctors and hospitals recognize the importance of the human-animal bond to a patient’s healing.
Pets can be ideal motivators for hospital patients. Studies show pet visitation improves vital signs, reduces stress and anxiety and even encourages healing. For this reason, some hospitals offer special companion pet programs for patients and their pets. A wonderful example is Zachary’s Paws for Healing at the Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. This volunteer organization not only brings the pets to visit, but also provides foster care to pet owners entering the hospital so they don’t have to worry about their pet’s care and can focus entirely on their healing. Learn more at www.zacharyspawsforhealing.com/about.html.
When a patient transitions to hospice, though, conditions change.
Hospice care is comfort care focused on quality of life for those patients with a terminal illness and life expectancy of six months or less. While hospice care is available in a variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers and at home, hospice isn’t a place but instead a philosophy of care that focuses on the physical, emotional and spiritual care of the patient, family and caregivers.
For pet owners in hospice, their pets provide comfort, companionship and love when it’s most needed. As with hospitals, the terms for allowing pet visits in hospice vary; for example, a pet may be allowed in the hospice patient’s room 24 hours a day, although most maintain the stipulation that the pet is up-to-date on vaccinations.
Pet Peace of Mind, located in Salem, OR, is a national support network that helps hospice and palliative care patients care for their pets. The program trains volunteers to assist with daily routine care such as feeding, walking and pet sitting, plus scheduling visits to the veterinarian and groomer. Additionally, they can arrange for foster care or adoption of the pet after the patient passes away. Learn more at: www.petpeaceofmind.org/about-us/