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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2004, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Hospitals should allow pet visits
Dog
A patient's best friend?
Hospital patients could receive a fillip if pets were allowed to visit, according to a psychologist.

Dr June McNicholas will put her "pets on prescription" idea to the Royal College of Nursing annual conference in Harrogate on Tuesday.

The Warwick University psychologist believes more hospitals and care homes should give visiting rights to animals when their owners are ill.

She said pets boosted recovery, reduced stress and provided companionship.

I think we dismiss a lot of what is so essential in people's lives.
Dr June McNicholas
Dr McNicholas dismissed the idea that pets were a health hazard. She said they were more likely to catch illness from humans, than the other way round.

A small number of hospitals and hospices do allow patients to meet up with their pets - but as yet it is the exception, not the norm.

Dr McNicholas suggested more institutions should consider the idea of establishing visiting rooms where patients could be reunited with their pets.

Alternatively, patients could be allowed to see their pets through a window in a garden area outside the ward.

She said: "We already know that people love their pets but it can be dismissed as something like sentimentality and I think we dismiss a lot of what is so essential in people's lives."

Benefits

Research has shown that pets can have a positive effect.

Men with cats and dogs have been shown to have lower blood pressure.

In one study nearly nine out of 10 breast cancer patients said their pets had provided valuable support.

And in another, pets were shown to help people come to terms with bereavement.

Dr McNicholas said there was also growing evidence that pets helped boost the immune systems of children and helped stop them getting allergies or asthma.

She also described ways in which ferrets had been used to help blind children understand movement and space.

She said nurses should be more aware of the importance of pets in people's lives so they could play a part in their recovery.

"I would like it to be acknowledged as an acceptable practice in hospitals wherever possible."




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