Therapy dogs spread cheer and goodwill to hospital patients. But a new study shows they may also spread germs. Researchers from the University of Guelph’s veterinary school in Ontario, Canada, found that viruses like methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile may have been transferred to therapy dogs when patients handled or kissed them, or through exposure to a contaminated environment. The researchers examined 26 therapy dog-and-handler teams in 2007, testing the dogs’ forepaws and their handlers’ hands for the pathogens before they entered medical facilities.
The researchers then compared the results before the teams entered the facilities to those after they left. After visiting an acute-care facility, one dog was found to have C. difficile on its paws. In a separate instance, MRSA was detected on the lead researcher’s hands after handling a dog that had visited a long-term care facility.
The authors of the study concluded that to contain the spreading of germs, hospital patients and dog handlers should follow recommended hand-sanitation procedures.
The study was published online in the March 28, 2009, issue of the Journal of Hospital Infection.