Our Top Ten Pet Points are:
Pets are definitely allowed onto wards! The Care Quality Commission and the Department of Health have confirmed this, with the simple and important requirement that this fits in with Trust policy and with patients’ needs and care plans.
The evidence base for the therapeutic benefits of contact with animals is huge and compelling.
There are several excellent Trust policies on animals, listed in the resources section below eg N E Lincs Policy for Pets on Inpatient Mental Health Suites
The State Hospital in Scotland, a high secure unit, is blessed with a Pet Therapy Centre. Brilliantly they’ve produced a beautiful, inspiring and practical guide to the therapeutic use of pets in mental health hospitals – Animals as Therapy in Mental Health.
Contact with animals can be on the ward (with resident or visiting pets), off the ward but within the hospital (usually with animals in the garden or a mini-farm) or off site (eg patients helping out at local rescue centres or farms.)
Pets can be as low-key and low-cost as a goldfish, or a major feature of ward life with a cat or dog. Small furry things (hamsters, guinea pigs) are a great compromise and patients, staff and visitors get much pleasure from caring for and playing with them.
There are practical ways round the fact that some patients definitely won’t want contact with animals because of allergies, phobias, religious beliefs and other factors. The important thing is to plan for this – eg by having a pet shared between several wards so that if one ward can’t house the pet for a period, another one can.
Although actual, real-life furry/finny/funny pets are the best, if that isn’t possible then there are all sorts of imaginative ways of including animals in ward life, from photos to soft toys. (And we’d welcome your feedback about challenges you face with patients having contact with animals.)
Conversely, animals can be used as a structured part of therapy, through Animal Assisted Therapy.
For many of us, our pets are an integral part of our family so it really helps when this is recognised in care plans, home leave, visits and everyday conversation.