Therapy Dogs Can Spread MRSA in Hospitals—But Shampooing Can Help Interview with:

Courtesy of Kathryn Dalton, VMD MPH

Courtesy of Kathryn Dalton, VMD MPH

Kathryn Dalton, VMD MPH
AKC CHF Fellow
PhD Student, Davis Lab
Environmental Health and Engineering
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Animal-assisted interventions (or AAI for short) have become increasing popular in hospitals for the emotional and physical benefits they bring to patients. But there is a risk that these therapy dogs could potential spread infectious germs, including MRSA (methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus), to patients.

Our study found that therapy dogs can spread MRSA to patients, and children who had more contact with the therapy dog were at higher risk of getting MRSA. But, we used a new cleaning protocol on the dog with an anti-septic shampoo before the visit and anti-septic wipes during the visit. Patients who had more contact with the dog did not have a higher risk of MRSA when the dog was giving this new cleaning protocol, which made the AAI therapy visits safer for the patients. In addition, the patients’ emotional and physical benefits we observed were not changed by using this dog cleaning protocol. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: There is still a risk of MRSA for patients who participate in an AAI therapy visit, but using this antiseptic protocol on the dog made the visits safer for children. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We are very excited to announce that we have recently been funded for a larger project to study the patients’ risk of MRSA from an AAI therapy session within multiple departments and hospitals. This will allow us to explore other routes of infection to the patients. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This research started at the request of practicing doctors, who were concerned that these therapy dogs could potentially bring an infectious agent into the hospital and transmit it to their patients. Our central hypothesis though is that the dog is actually the scape-goat and it is the interaction of patient-to-patient and patient-to-hospital environment within the therapy session that increases the risk of contamination. The therapy dog is more likely an “interactive vector”, enhancing the spread between these populations.

An important consideration to ensure the continued use of AAI programs is the health and welfare of the therapy dog, who is also at risk of MRSA infection and disease. I’m biased as a veterinarian, but I believe animal-assisted programs need to be evaluated for benefits and risk in the light of a holistic One Health approach, which emphasis the combined health of humans, animals, and the environment. Having these programs continue, and even spread to other areas in hospitals, is an important tool in total patient care. Being on the ground on all of these study visits gave me the opportunity to see how important these therapy dogs were to the patients – it was amazing to see just how excited the children got when they saw the dog for the first time. Many of the patients are extremely anxious to be in the hospital and our study found that this program minimized patient’s self-report of worry and sadness. I truly believe this program can be beneficial for all parties involved, if properly implemented.

No disclosures


ID week 18 abstract discussing:

Cleaning therapy dogs with special antibacterial shampoo and wipes reduces MRSA carriage and helps keep kids safe

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Last Updated on October 5, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD