Keeping animals happy, healthy and safe


Just as there are risks to humans from contact with animals, the same applies to risks to animals from humans. The benefits to patients and other members of the ward community are so huge (remember the bunny in the women’s secure unit which reduced self-harming by 50%!!) that as long as arrangements are carefully managed, risks all round can be reduced to the very reasonable and manageable.

The welfare of animals is very important! The success of highly ambitious programmes like State Hospital Scotland and (the also Scottish!) Paws for Progress young prisoners’ rescue dog training programme is thanks to the focus as much on animals’ welfare as on humans’. Here’s one happy Paws for Progress pooch.

The details in the legal section covers most of the broad welfare issues. State Hospital provide these very useful specifics for mental health wards:

4.1 Supervision: All interactions between patients and animals will be supervised.

4.2 Client Information: Where it is known by the referring Clinical Team that a patient has abused animals, this information should be passed to the Nurse in Charge of the Centre.

4.3 Handling Animals: Interaction with any animal should not exceed one hour in any one day, or less should the animal exhibit any signs of stress.

4.4 Housing: Housing will comply with documented requirements where these exist. In any uncertainty concerning housing requirements, the SSPCA will be asked for advice. It is the Centre’s responsibility to actively seek informed advice on this issue.

4.5 Care: Food and water will be provided daily for the animals.

4.6 Lifestyle: The natural environment and ethology of each species will be considered, and how this will influence where and how often the animals are exercised and how they are handled, with known stressors absent or minimised as much as possible. All effort will be made to avoid boredom and stress in caged animals.

4.7 Suitability: Behavioural suitability of individual animals to be kept in the Centre will be decided by the Centre staff team, advised by the veterinary practitioner or animal behaviourist. Species to be kept in the Centre will be agreed by management and the staff team.

4.8 Disposal: Any animal found to be unsuitable for the purposes of therapy will be re-homed, and if this is not possible, disposed of humanely by a vet.

4.9 Veterinary cover: Visits by a vet will take place every three months. Should any signs of illness occur in any animal between visits, veterinary advice will be sought.

4.10 Training of animals: Any training of animals in the Centre will follow the guidelines of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organisations which state that only positive reinforcement training methods should be used.

5 The Five Freedoms

  • The Centre will adhere to the five freedoms for all animals:
  • Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

6. Knowledge base: The Centre will make every effort to keep up-to- date with current research and developments in animal assisted therapy, zoonoses and animal welfare issues.