Assistance dogs' should not be banned from hospitals - their paws are no riskier than the soles of our shoes, says Banbury charity

Banbury charity Dogs for Good has spoken up to allay fears about assistance dogs' paws being a bacterial risk.

Monday, 12th April 2021, 2:02 pm
Assistance dogs can bring huge benefit to hospital and care setting patients and their paws are no riskier than the soles of our feet, says Banbury charity Dogs for Good Picture by Utrecht University

The organisation, which trains dogs to help people with disabilities or special needs, says there is no evidence of poor hygiene in assistance dogs' paws.

The assurance from Dogs for Good follows a recent study in the Netherlands which found that common beliefs around assistance dogs paws giving an increased risk around bacterial hygiene has found that a dog’s paws are actually safer and had less harmful bacteria on them than was found on people’s outdoor shoes.

"We encourage hospitals and health care settings - when restrictions ease - to welcome assistance dogs and dogs providing animal assisted interventions to provide much-needed support to people with disabilities and additional needs," said Dogs for Good's chief executive, Peter Gorbing.

"For many of the people that Dogs for Good works with, the support of an assistance dog enables independence and confidence to go about their daily lives. For some clients with anxiety in addition to their condition - such as an autistic child or people with dementia - an assistance dog can provide calming headrests that enable them to cope better in difficult circumstances, such as a hospital visit."

The charity also has a number of community dogs working alongside handlers and providing animal-assisted interventions to support people with conditions such as dementia, learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions.

While these dogs work in many different settings and their importance in supporting people has been recognised through Royal College of Nursing (RCN) protocols, the charity hopes this latest research will help to further reassure policy makers that paw hygiene may be of less risk than previously thought.

Dogs for Good say they recognise the many positive benefits that pet dogs can bring to their owners and would hope that health care settings, in time, would support more pet dogs being allowed to visit their owners in hospital or care homes, especially during long admissions.

There is another link here to a more reliable summary direct from Utrecht University www.uu.nl/en/news/paw-hygiene-no-reason-to-ban-assistance-dogs-from-hospitalsThe original article can be found at www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/2/513 with this conclusion:

"This pilot study showed that the general hygiene of dog paws is better than that of shoe soles. This result was mostly caused by the better general hygiene of PD paws in comparison to their owners’ shoe soles, as assistance dogs (ADs) and their users had comparable levels of general hygiene. An explanation for this conclusion may be that ADs and their users spend more time together in the same environments. C difficile was possibly only found on one AD user’s shoe soles. Future research on dog paw hygiene should utilise a larger sample size to investigate possible factors that could be linked to the number or presence or absence of recovered CFUs of the Enterobacteriaceae family.

"The experience questionnaire revealed that 81 per cent of AD users had been denied access with their current AD once or several times, despite the law. This underlines the need for research on the topic of this study. Hygiene was one of the main reasons given. The lack of knowledge of the general public on ADs and the law should be addressed, with the help of AD organisations. It would be wise to design a uniform harness for all AD types, regardless of the related organisation. Hospitals should be encouraged to set up straightforward and unambiguous protocols on the admittance of ADs.

"AD users only make up a very small part of the total number of patients and hospital visits in the Netherlands (0.02 per cent and 0.11 per cent, respectively). Combined with the results of this study, additional hygiene measures do not seem necessary and, hence, there is no reason that an AD should be denied access to hospitals."