Healthcare News & Insights

Animal therapy benefits hospital patients, staff

Over the years, animal therapy has become more popular in hospitals. Not only is it used to help patients feel more at ease, it’s also become a technique to help hospital staff fight stress, sadness and burnout. 

One hospital in Pennsylvania has an ongoing program connecting doctors and nurses with furry friends to help them relax and deal with work-related stressors.

As written in an article from, Pennsylvania Hospital allows staffers to take advantage of the Paws for Pennsy program, where dogs and cats from a Philadelphia animal rescue pay regular visits to hospital staff. Staff members are allowed to pet and hold the animals, and it’s become a popular event.

Paws for Pennsy was created by Pennsylvania Hospital’s Care for the Care Provider committee, which was founded to help doctors and nurses cope with the emotional stress and burnout that are often experienced by those in the medical profession.

The committee brought in animals to boost employee morale, and after surveying participating staff, it appears the event has achieved this goal.

During the first Paws for Pennsy event, 53% of attending staff said they felt very or somewhat stressed upon arriving, while 17% felt unhappy to some degree. After spending some time with the animals, their feelings took a turn for the better: Almost 83% said they felt stress-free, and 90% were happy.

Another Philadelphia hospital, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, also has its own animal-themed program for staff, as described in a USA Today article. With its33 Pet the Pooch program, clinical staff can take a few minutes to decompress by interacting with animals.

Even better: Both Philly programs allow interested staff members to put in applications to adopt an animal they bonded with during the event.

Dogs as ’employees’

Hospitals are also boosting their animal therapy programs for patients, especially in children’s hospitals, where more dogs have become permanent fixtures.

According to USA Today, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital just “hired” Farley, a golden retriever puppy, as the facility’s first full-time comfort animal.

Farley was named after one of the hospital’s young cancer patients who died in 2016. Sixteen-year-old Kristyn Farley loved dogs and often wished she could interact with them more often during her hospital stays. So East Tennessee applied for a grant from PetSmart to purchase a permanent facility dog that could always be onsite.

Because Farley’s still a puppy, she must complete several weeks of training and an evaluation for temperament before she’s able to interact with patients. However, she’ll still be able to serve as a comfort animal for hospital staff during her training. And once her training’s finished, she’ll be able to visit young patients if other volunteer therapy animals aren’t available.

Other children’s hospitals have brought on full-time, onsite therapy dogs (many of them golden retrievers) for patients and staff, including C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Hawaii, Texas Children’s Hospital, Penn State Children’s Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

Larger hospitals may want to take a page from these children’s facilities and Philadelphia hospitals, and offer more opportunities for patients and clinical staff to interact with animals as a mood booster.

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