“The one thing I am good at is caring for my dogs. I needed to feel that whilst on the ward so I spent a lot of time remotely doing the same…making them things, having visits, checking up on their wellbeing.”

“There is something about the rhythm of stroking my dog when he comes to visit that just makes me breathe better and feel lighter.”

Wards are really creative in enabling patients to have contact with and conversations about animals, as you can see from the glorious list of examples. Most would like to be able to do more, and the barrier we’re most often told about is “infection control.” In fact, once risk assessments are done and sensible arrangements put in place, there are no reasons why all wards can’t have at least a locked fish tank and ideally some furrier friends. Of course the needs of patients and staff on a ward for people with dementia have many differences to those of people on a CAMHS ward and choices about contact with animals can be built around not only broad Trust policy but also the specific needs of that ward and who is there. Wards with many Muslim patients will need to be careful about dogs but can be enthusiastic about cats and other animals. Arrangements can be put in place to respond to patients or staff with allergies, phobias – as well as looking after the well-being of those for whom animals are central to their lives, well-being and recovery.

About 50% of UK households own a pet. Recent statistics indicate we share our lives with 7.3 million dogs and 7.2 million cats. (Not all at once, of course!) For many Cambian residents, whether in hospital or school, not only must they live away from home, their family and friends but might also lose the companionship of a much-loved animal. For some, this is one of the most missed aspects of their lives.

While it’s not possible for Cambian to accommodate people’s pets, animals play an important part in the daily routine of many of our service-users. They bring everyday life a little bit closer, offer friendship and fun, but, in addition are invaluable as part of therapy. There has been a great deal of research that shows the benefits. We don’t need to read it – we can see for ourselves.

The main opportunities are:


In a nutshell, the more intensive the requirements are, the higher the benefits. So having a cat living on the ward involves more time and cost than, say, a cat visiting through Pets As Therapy, and will have much greater rewards because the cat is always around, patients and staff build a relationship and history with the cat etc. Fish are the lowest maintenance and most popular ward pet, with guinea pigs a popular second choice. Arguably the most rewarding because most responsive pet, a dog, is a huge responsibility for wards and visiting dogs are a much better arrangement, especially when staff bring their own dogs in and take them home after the shift. Some staff have their dogs accepted and registered as a Pets As Therapy dog, which is a brilliant compromise.