Dear Daisy Dog
My bichon, Daisy, will soon be certified by Therapy Dogs International, and we’ll begin visiting human hospitals every week. I know how to prevent Daisy from spreading infections and parasites to the human patients, but I wonder if I should be concerned about the patients transmitting diseases to her.
You should, and there are precautions you can take.
A recent study of nearly 200 therapy dogs, half of whom visited hospitals and long-term care facilities while the other half worked in non-health-care settings such as schools and group homes, answers your question.
The study showed that therapy dogs are at risk of contracting bacterial infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (also known as MRSA) and Clostridium difficile (or C diff.)
All participating dogs were free of these diseases when the therapy visits began. Tests conducted every two months over the year-long study confirmed that therapy dogs visiting health care institutions were more likely than other therapy dogs to acquire infections.
These infections developed more frequently in dogs that licked patients, accepted treats from patients, or sat directly on the patients’ bed sheets. So you’d be wise to have Daisy refrain from these activities.
In addition, C diff infection was more common in dogs receiving antibiotics -– a risk factor for humans as well -– so keep Daisy at home if she ever needs antibiotics.
Interestingly, while some of the dogs were infected by these bacteria, they didn’t get sick. And neither did the human or pet members of their families.
So enjoy your therapy work with Daisy, but don’t allow her to lick patients, accept treats from them, or sit directly on their bed sheets.