Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 05, 2007

Group to Explore Guidelines for Animal Therapy Programs

University of Guelph researchers will host a meeting of animal and health experts from Canada and the United States on Tuesday to discuss comprehensive guidelines for animal therapy programs.

“It is fairly common to bring dogs, cats and other animals into hospitals and longterm care facilities to interact with patients to boost spirits and improve health,” said Scott Weese, a Guelph clinical studies professor who specializes in diseases that pass between animals and humans. He is hosting the gathering with Sandra Lefebvre, a veterinarian and a Guelph PhD candidate in epidemiology.

“But guidelines for animal therapy programs vary and they tend to be superficial and lacking in scientific evidence,” Weese said. “The new guidelines should address important issues with respect to the potential for infectious disease transmission.”

In studies published last spring, Lefebvre and Weese found that 80 per cent of therapy dogs carry zoonotic diseases that may pass from animals to people. Their research, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, showed several health risks associated with dogs visiting hospitals.

“The aim of the research was to collect scientific evidence showing that there need to be more stringent evidence-based protocols for therapy dogs,” said Lefebvre.

Their study of 102 visitation dogs from across Ontario found that 58 per cent carried the Clostridium difficile bacterial strain. Other infectious pathogens detected in the dogs were Salmonella, multidrug-resistant E. coli and Giardia spp.

Dogs can also pick up bacterial strains that originate in hospitals and transfer them to the people in the community on a day-to-day basis, the researchers said.

In a separate study conducted last year, Weese found that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a drug-resistant “superbug,” can be freely passed between humans and household pets. The research, published in the journal Veterinary Microbiology, also found that pets can act as silent carriers of the bacteria for several months.

“We need to start thinking seriously about making infection control an integral part of their interactions to preserve the popularity of pet-visiting programs,” Weese said. Currently,
therapy dog protocols dictated by Canadian hospitals and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention — such as keeping animals parasite-free, clean and well-groomed, and maintaining up-to-date vaccinations — are only recommendations and do not address many of the most pressing issues.

The goal of Tuesday’s gathering is to discuss and debate new recommendations, and then to develop a final set of guidelines that will be made public in the next couple of months. The meeting will include representatives from U of G, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, the Community and Hospital Infection Control Association- Canada, the Canadian Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, and the Delta Society.

The gathering will be held at the Central Public Health Laboratory in Toronto and is sponsored by the Ontario Veterinary College and Public Health Agency of Canada.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

Email this entry to:

Message (optional):

Powered by FeedBlitz