Nurses tell of how furry friends can improve patient health

Nine out of ten nurses believe animals can improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems, according to the RCN. 

Nine out of ten nurses believe animals can improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems, according to the RCN. 

Patients’ access to animals seems to speed physical recovery. Photo: John Houlihan

An RCN survey of 751 nursing staff also found that more than 80% think animals can improve communication difficulties, such as for people with autism. 

In addition, 82% said that animals, dogs in particular, encouraged patients to be more physically active, while nearly 60% said just the presence of animals seemed to speed physical recovery. 

Nearly half of those surveyed have worked with animals in their career, from dogs and cats to ponies and chipmunks, and of those 98% said it benefited the patient.

‘Peace and serenity’

One nurse who works with outpatients said: ‘I worked with a young man with learning difficulties who found it hard to socialise. He found confidence in talking to other people about his dog. This was a big step for him.’

A palliative care nurse commented: ‘We have a resident cat and he brings much peace and serenity to our patients. He calms patients down, they talk to him – and he gives them comfort.’

Nine out of ten nurses think patients should have access to animals in order to reap these rewards. However, almost a quarter of staff questioned said no animals were allowed where they worked. A further 32% said only service animals such as guide dogs were allowed.

The most common reason for animals to be prohibited was the risk of infection (57%).

Infection concerns

The RCN is calling for better, more consistent access to animals for all patients who can benefit. It says a lack of training for both staff and the animals themselves often limits how many patients can have this kind of therapy, while concerns over infection can keep patients apart from their beloved pets.

RCN professional lead for long-term conditions and end of life care Amanda Cheesley said: 'I’ve seen patients with animals in hospitals and in their homes – the difference it makes is remarkable.

‘I used to take my Great Dane with me when I was a district nurse and he could put a smile on any patients’ face.

‘A positive mental outlook often makes all the difference in health care and animals can help to boost a patient’s mood in many ways.

‘Reduced anxiety’

‘They provide companionship, help patients to regain their independence and provide a kind of support that people often can’t. 

‘Nurses have told us of patients with reduced anxiety, better interaction and a whole reason to live – and we should listen to these experiences.

‘Health services need fully trained animals and handlers that can ensure the care of both animals and patients. 

‘Animals can really help to relieve suffering and bring happiness into patients’ lives, but services need to adapt to make this possible for all.’

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