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Infection Control in Animal Facilitated Therapy

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The proper selection and maintenance of the dogs used in
A.F.T. is the first step toward the establishment of an appropriate infection
control protocol. Age, health, cleanliness, and regular veterinary care of the
dog are all important issues that need to be addressed to ensure a safe and
successful program.


It is generally not a good idea to use dogs under 1 year of
age in an A.F.T. program. Although puppies are very cute, cuddly and appealing,
there can be a lot of stress not only in visiting, but also in traveling back
and forth. Puppies under 12 weeks of age don’t have fully developed immune
systems and prolonged stress can cause them to become ill. Young puppies are
less controllable, and may nip, scratch, soil, and become carsick. It would be
better to spend this time of growth bonding with your puppy, and doing some all
important puppy "kindergarten" training.


All dogs that are used in A.F.T. must be up to date on
vaccinations, and should have the documentation from the veterinarian available
on a physical profile form. The vaccinations that are necessary are DHLPP
(distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvo) and rabies.
Corona, bortadella, and Lyme disease are at your discretion and should be
discussed with your vet. Regular fecal examinations are also important, as are
heartworm exams and preventative heartworm medication . Your dog should receive
regular veterinary exams even if he appears healthy and has no obvious medical
problems. This is the time for the vet to carefully examine the dog’s skin,
ears, eyes, heart, lungs, etc. and check for any irregularities. A dog must be
in optimal health to comfortably and successfully participate in an A.F.T.
program. Most facilities and certifications require written proof of
vaccinations and health status of all dogs used in their program.


Be sure to inspect your dog regularly for fleas and ticks.
It is important to rid both your dog and your home of these pests, as they spend
more time in your carpets, etc. than on your pet! Flea collars containing toxic
insecticides should not be on a dog participating in A.F.T., nor should you
treat him with a chemical powder or spray before your visits. There are some
good herbal/natural remedies that are effective and nontoxic to people and
animals. If your veterinarian is not familiar with these products, natural or
homeopathic animal care catalogues are available.


Hand washing is probably one of the most important methods
of preventing the spread of infections, disease, or parasites. You should wash
your hands before you begin your visits, in between each patient that you have
actual physical contact with, and before leaving the facility.


If you are ill, even with "just a touch of a cold",
please postpone your visit until you are better. Remember a lot of the people
you are visiting have weakened immune systems. Don’t feel that you are being
unreliable by canceling an appointment. As long as you notify the facility in
advance, it is much more responsible to wait until you are well.


It is important to be aware of which residents are allergic
to dogs. This should be documented in the resident’s record. Some people have
reactions to the dander by touching the dog, others by inhaling it in the air.
Many people with asthma are allergic to animal dander. Be sure that you and your
dog don’t approach a person with a known allergy to animals. If his or her
roommate would like a visit, it will be necessary to visit somewhere other than
in the room, perhaps in a community room, or in the hallway.


Included in your packet are reprints of charts which list
some of the possibilities for zoonotic infections and diseases.( those which can
be exchanged between people and animals) Don’t let these frighten you, but
instead be aware of the need for good hygiene and health care for dog and
handler alike.


Be sure to keep your dog’s toenails trimmed, and file any
rough edges if necessary, as many elderly people have fragile skin which tears
easily. It is not necessary to bathe your dog before each visit, especially if
you go weekly, but please bathe him regularly, brush him well before your visit,
and check his ears and eyes for any matter which should be cleaned off. It is a
good idea to wipe him over with a slightly damp cloth before you enter a
facility, as this will help keep the dander under control. Remember that your
dog also needs dental care; it is necessary to brush his teeth (ask your vet or
groomer to show you how) and schedule a yearly professional cleaning at the
vet’s office.


Do not allow your dog to lick a resident, especially on the
face. Keep your eyes on his paws also, as many breeds tend to put their paws on
people, and this can lead to scratches. If, for some reason a person does get
scratched or bitten, report it immediately to the nursing staff, and follow
their procedures for documentation of the incident. If your dog has an
unexpected housebreaking "accident", clean it up with paper towels,
dispose of it in an appropriate receptacle (toilet, utility hopper, etc.) and
have the housekeeping dept. notified so they can further cleanse the area with
disinfectant. Needless to say, it is important to give your dog time to relieve
himself before your visit.