With the increasing emphasis on behavioral and mental health among the residents of long-term care facilities, it seems a good time to review the benefits as well as the infection prevention and control implications of pets in the care environment.
Both certified therapy animals and personal pets can have a positive impact on the well-being of those blessed to interact with them. Animals provide companionship, assistance, motivation, and joy. They have been shown to reduce stress, blood pressure, and possibly cardiovascular risk. Including animals as part of a behavioral management program can be a wise choice provided safety and infection prevention guidelines are followed. Here are a few important points to remember when welcoming animals into the long-term care setting.
Federal guidelines are silent about pet therapy, but state licensure regulations should be reviewed prior to the introduction of animals into the environment. (See for example, Pennsylvania §211.17)
It is wise to have a policy for having pets in the facility.
The wishes of individual residents to have or not have animal visits to their individual space should be honored. These wishes should be included in the comprehensive care plan and there should be a way of communicating to those with the animals.
Animals should never have access to the kitchen, food service areas, or dining rooms when meals are being served.
Animals suitable for the long-term care setting include dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, fish, and rabbits.
Animals must be kept current with immunizations and have an annual physical examination by a licensed veterinarian. This information needs to be on file for state surveyors to review.
The animal must be free of communicable diseases, parasites, and fleas. Ears must be kept clean, and nails kept short.
All wounds and burns must be covered. Tracheotomies must be capped or connected to the ventilator, oxygen source, or some other appropriate cover during the animal visit.
If an animal has an elimination accident in the building those responsible for clean-up should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes gloves at a minimum. Any organic debris and paper towels should be placed in a plastic bag and disposed of in the same manner as disposal of adult incontinence briefs. The area should be cleaned promptly with the facility’s approved disinfectant.
Residents should be assisted to perform hand hygiene after touching an animal.
The place where the pet resides should be routinely cleaned and kept sanitary.
Animals can carry diseases that can spread to humans and vice versa. A few to be aware of include toxoplasma, salmonella, pasteurella, ringworm, chlamydia, and Bordetella bronchiseptica. Diseases can also be transmitted from bites by fleas and ticks carried on the animal.
This list is not all-inclusive. The administrative team should ensure compliance and consider having a pet committee, especially for facility-owned pets.