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Are dogs allowed to visit their owners in UK hospitals?

woman laying in hospital bed and petting golden poodle cross

While pets aren't generally allowed in hospitals, some exceptions can be made

© Monkey Business Images - Shutterstock

As any owner will know, dogs can be the perfect medicine when one is sick or feeling down. But do hospitals in the UK allow dogs to visit their owners? Let’s find out.

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

As dog owners, we’d love for every place to be dog-friendly. Unfortunately, hospitals are not often that way, which can make hospital stays difficult. 

Thankfully, in the past few years, the benefits of dogs visiting patients has been widely noticed, and efforts are being made to make hospitals more accessible to dogs. Here’s everything you need to know about bringing a dog to the hospital in the UK.

Can my dog visit me in the hospital?

Dogs are the only species of animal (excluding exceptional cases), who can visit or accompany their owners in the hospital. Dogs are separated into four different groups, and each has a different set of rules when entering a health establishment.

Assistance dogs

Assistance dogs are specifically trained to assist their owners with a disability - may it be blindness, deafness, or seizures, for example. According to the Equality Act of 2010, these dogs are allowed to go everywhere with their owners, including hospitals. They will not, however, be allowed in places that are kept sterile, such as operating rooms. For this reason, it’s very important that the assistance dog knows how to stay alone for some time while their owner is being tended to. 

Pets as Therapy dogs

PAT dogs have undergone some training and passed an assessment which proves their temperaments are suitable for visiting vulnerable patients in hospital. PATs are allowed to visit approved patients at scheduled times. They and their handler should always be wearing their PAT harness and badge. 

Security dogs

These may include the dogs of hospital guards or sniffer dogs - both are admitted in hospital when on duty.

Pets

Pets are, as a general rule, not allowed to visit their owners in the hospital. However, exceptions can be made if the patient is well enough to see the animal, has been staying in the hospital for an extended amount of time, and it is thought that seeing the animal could improve the patient’s overall health. If you want a pet to visit a patient in the hospital, you must write a letter to the ward or department manager so they can consider your request.

As with any other dog visiting the hospital, the pet visiting cannot be under 6 months of age, pregnant, or have recently given birth.

Why do hospitals restrict access to animals?

Generally, hospitals are reluctant to allow animals into their facilities because of the risk of transmission of zoonotic infections, particularly to patients who are immuno-compromised. These infections include Clostridium difficile, Giardia, Salmonella, ringworm, toxocariasis, and toxoplasmosis. Bites, if they occur due to stress, for example, can also cause nasty wounds and infections.

Another problem with bringing animals into the hospital is that not everyone is comfortable having animals around. Other patients could be allergic or have an animal-related phobia, in which case having an animal around has more negative effects than positive ones.

In addition, some patients are not physically well enough to handle an animal, especially a pet who would be excited to see them.

Finally, if every owner was allowed to bring their pet to the hospital with them, the hospital would be filled with animals! Staff would no longer be able to appropriately do their jobs, which is why access to pets specifically is very regulated.

Should pets be allowed in hospital?

Studies have shown that animals are very good for our mental health and many nurses have backed up that fact after seeing their patients perk up when visited by a furry friend. In fact, The Royal College of Nursing has been working hard to encourage hospitals to be more welcoming to animals in their wards. 

According to a survey of 750 nursing staff, 90% of nurses believe animals can benefit patients - whether this be by helping them to open up more or by encouraging them to exercise. Nine out of 10 nurses also said animals improved the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems. 

Overall, it’s clear to see that there’s a stark difference between a patient’s mood prior and post visit from their pet! That’s why, if the circumstances allow it, getting a visit from a pet should be considered - it can even help relieve some of the stress from hospital staff!

What should I do before bringing a dog to the hospital?

If the ward or department manager has given you permission to bring a dog to visit a patient, there are certain things you must do beforehand.

Firstly, be aware that the visit may only be allowed outside the facility - in the hospital gardens for example. While this may be the case, you should still prepare the animal before visiting the hospital grounds. 

Make sure your pet is up-to-date with all their vaccinations as well as their flea and worm medications. This will limit the risk of zoonotic infections being passed on.

Take the dog for a walk before visiting the hospital to make sure they have done their business prior to the visit. You should also groom, or even bathe the animal to make sure their coat is free of dirt and won’t have too many loose hairs flying about. Finally, during the visit, discourage the animal from jumping up on and licking the patient. Also encourage the patient to wash or disinfect their hands after petting the dog.

Frequently asked questions

How do I get an emotional support animal UK?

How are dogs used in hospitals?

How do therapy dogs improve the emotional health of hospital patients?

Do you think dogs should be allowed to visit their owners in hospitals?
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