Why we Want US Healthcare to go to the Dogs

Have you ever had to spend any time in the hospital as a patient?  If you have, it is likely that you may have experienced periods of feeling low, anxious, stressed, and frustrated as a result of your illness or injury and because of being away from family, friends, and your home. If any of this sounds like your hospital experience, you were not alone, as it is not uncommon for hospitalized patients to experience a downturn in mental wellbeing, sometimes with physiological changes too.

In order to counteract some of these multi-factor stressors that hospitalized patients experience, many hospitals have introduced a variety of therapeutic programs.  One program that you are increasingly likely to see on that list is animal-assisted therapy sometimes simply called pet therapy.

Why is animal-assisted therapy being used?

The idea of animal-assisted therapy is not new.  For many years, it was considered to be a “nice” thing for hospital patients to experience, but thanks to increasing amounts of research into the topic by clinicians, there has been proven to be a wider range of benefits.

boy-with-pet-therapy-dog

What are the benefits of animal-assisted therapy to patients?

An article by Cole, Gawlinski, Steers, and Kotlerman1 in the American Journal of Critical Care showed that when patients had only a 12-minute visit from a pet, there was an improvement in heart and lung function and a significant lowering of blood pressure, a reduction in the release of harmful hormones, and a decrease in anxiety.  The study was conducted with hospitalized heart failure patients. It indicated that there was far more benefit shown in those patients that received a visit from a pet than in those patients who were only visited by a human volunteer or those who were left alone.

Specifically, the benefits to patients of animal-assisted therapy include:

Mental health benefits

  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced problem behaviors for patients with dementia (less agitation, less verbal aggression, and more social behavior)
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Reduced tension
  • Reduced confusion
  • Improved self-esteem and self-acceptance
  • Increased socialization
  • Reduced boredom

Physical health benefits

  • Lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure when exposed to stress
  • Reduced serum epinephrine concentrations
  • Lower pain perception
  • Endorphins (oxytocin) released giving a calming effect
  • Reduced need for medication

man-petting-dog-in-hospital

What are the dangers for patients?

If patients are allergic to pets, animal-assisted therapy cannot be used. Guidelines from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) indicate that only dogs should be used, not cats. Cats cannot be trained in the same way as dogs, with more likelihood of scratches and bites from cats.  Additionally, people are more likely to be allergic to cats than to dogs.

There has been a lot of research done on the benefit of having dogs in the hospital, but not much research on the spread of bacteria from having dogs in the hospital rooms. The SHEA developed new guidelines for how hospitals can approach having pets visiting with patients at the hospital. Dogs used for pet therapy purposes and their handlers need to undergo specific training and be evaluated prior to having hospital access and ideally should be certified by a pet training organization. The American Kennel Club (AKC) lists the organizations through which it accepts dogs to have received their certification and to be given the official title of AKC Therapy Dog.

A study done in a Canadian hospital tested dogs’ paws and fur prior to hospital entry and then again after visiting patients.  Of the 26 dogs studied, one picked up C Difficile on his paws during the visit and one had MRSA on his fur and on the handler’s hands following the visit.2 This highlights that although sanitizing pets is difficult, there is a definite need for thorough handwashing by anyone visiting patients prior to visiting and following the visit. When visiting with multiple patients, handwashing between visits is essential.

Hospitals have very distinct protocols in place to ensure that the transmission of infection is kept at a minimum. The animals have to be clean, vaccinated, trained, and have a good temperament before being allowed into the hospital in the first place.  In some cases, such as patients in isolation units or patients in the intensive care unit, pet therapy can only take place with extra measures in place, but in certain situations it is unsuitable.

lady-receiving-pet-therapy

Examples of successful animal-assisted therapy?

There are two types of patient-pet interactions: animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activity. Animal-assisted therapy is specifically directed toward patients with cancer, heart disease, or mental health concerns and needs to have a credentialed staff member involved in the process.  Animal-assisted activities have a wider scope and are typically used to provide comfort and enjoyment focusing on mental health benefits rather than trying to achieve specific physiological outcomes such as reduced blood pressure, etc. This latter form of activity is typically staffed by volunteer handlers.

Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York City is an example of a hospital where canines have successfully been introduced in the Caring Canines program.

 

memorial-sloane-kettering-caring-canines
President of Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center with Caring Canines employees

 

There are many programs of a similar type being introduced across the nation as the full benefits are increasingly being understood.  Dogs are not only being used in surgical and treatment settings but are being used for physical therapy and rehabilitation. Tasks such as brushing a dog can make for more interesting arm strengthening exercises for patients than just doing weight training.3  Dogs can also be used to encourage walking and other rehabilitative exercises.

More and more research is being done on the subject of pet therapy to ascertain the relative merits.  Here at Pet Barrier, we think the answer is simple.  If having a therapy or activity session with a dog can at the bare minimum brighten a patient’s day during difficult times, pet therapy is absolutely worth it. It has been clinically proven that animal-assisted therapy achieves far more than that, with benefits to patients’ mental and physical health being achieved across all age groups, from children through to seniors.  Animal-assisted therapy and activity should be available at all healthcare facilities across the nation. Is US healthcare going to the dogs? We welcome it!

We’d love to hear about your experiences with pet therapy – please share if you are able.

References

1.       Gole, Gawlinski, Steers, Kotlerman. Animal-Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized With Heart Failure. Am J Crit Care. November 2007 vol. 16 no. 6 575-585

2. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/therapy-dogs-and-hospital-infections/?_r=0 Tara Parker-Pope May 11, 2009

3. Haggard, A. (1985). A patient’s best friend. American Journal of Nursing. 85(12), 1374-1376

 

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Why Mom was Right About Spring Cleaning: Part 3, Lifestyle

 

Part 3: Your lifestyle

 

When you are a busy adult, whether because of work commitments, child care, caring for senior family members, pet care,  or perhaps all of the aforementioned, it is often easy to make the mistake of putting yourself last.  Admittedly in this 3-part series, I am posting this last, which shows I’m as guilty of thinking along these lines as anybody.  Whenever I’ve put my needs first, I’ve always felt a little bit guilty, but recent events at my veterinarian’s office made me rethink what I had previously thought of as selfish actions on my part.

motherjuggling

I was attending an appointment with my dog when another dog’s owner experienced a heart attack in the waiting room. Fortunately, the outcome of a long and convoluted story was that the dog’s owner recovered well and the dog received care during the recuperation period.  It left me with the realization that in order to ensure someone else’s welfare, we need to ensure our own welfare. Ultimately, if we don’t take proper care of ourselves, we become unable to care for others. Isn’t it, therefore, a wise investment to make time for yourself this spring by reviewing your lifestyle and maybe giving it an overhaul if it is falling short?

 

 

Rethink your workout habits

You work out to stay fit and healthy, but if your routine hasn’t really changed in many years, maybe it could do with a refresh to keep you interested and challenged.  If you enjoy working out with your dog, activities like canine parcours or doga could be of interest to you.  If you love walking with your dog, but are thinking about progressing to running, maybe alternating jogging with walking with your pup may be a good way to ease both of you into the sport.

yoga

Improve your diet

We’re not talking about dangerous diets or detox programs, but simply evaluating what you eat and seeing how you can boost your nutritional intake can be beneficial.  An easy way to start is with a food diary, in which you write down what and how much you have eaten for every meal for a couple of weeks (or longer if you prefer).  You will probably be surprised by the results.  If you find your diet is particularly low in vegetables, that is an easy fix.  Additionally, if you notice that there is a lot of repetition in your meals, you can add more variety to give a broader range of nutrients and more interest for your palate. In the last couple years particularly, many  TV chefs, TV doctors, and celebrity fitness trainers have been focusing on increasing nutritional value in meals to try to help people reduce weight, prevent disease, and ultimately add years to their lives. Their suggested recipes are often simple to fix, absolutely delicious, and many are available free online – it’s worth googling.

superfood-salad

Take more time for yourself

No matter what hobbies you have and how you prefer to take time for yourself, make certain that you build some of this time into your week. Make a list of the things that you really want to do for yourself and the things that help you relax. Then look at what you actually do on a daily basis and determine what tasks can be eliminated or even outsourced.  If you spend all your spare time catching up on household duties, maybe some of those tasks can be shared with a spouse, leaving you some time to attend a language lesson, catch up on a good book, or whatever you want to do that’s just for you.

Nurture your friendships

Friends getting together

Friendships are vital, whether we have busy lives or not. Try to stay in touch with friends on a weekly basis, even if just by phone, and try to get together as often as possible. Friendships help us to feel connected, boost happiness levels, reduce stress, and may even help in preventing early onset dementia.

best-friends

 

Your Mom was right,  spring cleaning is an important addition to every person’s calendar, but not just for keeping your house spiffy. Take time for yourself, it’s not selfish, it’s essential!

 

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Why Mom was Right About Spring Cleaning: Part 2, Valeting

Part 2: Valeting your vehicle

Used daily and often multiple times a day in most households, your vehicle is one of the most frequently utilized items but often falls low on the list of cleaning priorities. Although car art using dirty vehicles has seen some recent popularity via social media postings, I don’t know of any driver who wouldn’t want to be able to see clearly through the windshield when they drive. The vast majority would also want to keep their vehicle’s paintwork protected from dirt and grime. If your vehicle’s interior is starting to show the wear and tear of being used as a dining room, a sports locker, and general storage unit, a bit of a deep clean treatment may be in order. An article in a British newspaperstated that a car steering wheel has 9 times more germs on it than a public toilet seat. I don’t know about you, but just that snippet of information made me desperate to get cleaning my car.

 

car-art

When frigid temperatures are starting to thaw, Spring makes the perfect time to give your car a deep clean, inside and out. Having your car detailed by a professional can be expensive, but there are many things that you can do yourself to give your vehicle a thorough refresh.

Outside

When tackling your vehicle’s exterior, clean wheels and tires first, using appropriate cleaning products.

Salt is helpful for improving driving conditions on winter roads, but wreaks havoc with paintwork so should be washed off as soon as possible. Grab a sponge, a bucket of soapy water (preferably using a car wash solution that doesn’t strip out protective coatings), and wash your vehicle by hand. When you’ve rinsed everything down, and before the car dries, use a squeegee to remove excess water to avoid unsightly spotting on the paintwork. If possible wash your car weekly but if exposed to bird droppings or sap, try to rinse this off before it dries as it can affect your paintwork.

When dry, follow up with two coats of wax to protect the paintwork from stains and minor scratches.  Wax wears off, so it is best to reapply every season

Check headlights for any rock chips, scratches or a hazy finish to the plastic.

kids-washing-car

It may be a struggle to get kids interested in doing some household chores, but many love to wash a car.  Get them involved so you can bond during the fun of the car wash.

Inside

During colder months, your vehicle’s interior can sometimes get dirtier than other times of the year with mud, rain, and snow being tracked in on people’s shoes and boots and pet’s paws.    Cleaning the interior can be a difficult and time-consuming process, but the following tips may help make it a little easier to tackle. First, clear out garbage that may have accumulated and then remove car mats and trunk liners. Get out the vacuum cleaner to tackle dust, dirt, pet hair, and debris, using a brush vacuum tool around vents. Spot clean stains on the carpet with an appropriate carpet cleaner.

Cleaning the inside of the glass in windows is really important, so use an anti-glare glass cleaner where possible and avoid ammonia-based products.

The dash, seats, handles, doors and headliner of the car all deserve your attention too.  Products are available that can kill bacteria and neutralize odors within the vehicle.  It can be worthwhile investing in these, to get a super fresh feel to your interior. An old toothbrush can be a handy cleaning tool to get into the nooks and crannies of vinyl and the seams on seats.

cleaning-the-inside-of-car

If you hate taking a long time to clean your vehicle’s interior, there are a few things that can be done to make it speedier.

  • If you regularly transport a lot of passengers including pets and kids you may want to consider installing vehicle-specific rubber car mats and trunk mat liners, which make cleaning a snap. Travall offers a good range with a pleasant vanilla fragrance. The unique lipped design helps prevent spills from reaching the carpet, saving your carpet and reducing your car cleaning time.
  • Just as you might keep a box of baking soda in your refrigerator to eliminate odors, you can take a similar approach with keeping car odors at bay.  Just make sure the baking soda is in a non-breakable container that is securely anchored in a safe position.
  • Adding a plastic garbage can to the car is helpful to keep future rides neater and tidier.plastic-trash-can-in-car

Cleaning the car can be fun and a great activity to get kids involved in. Why not take the time to give your vehicle a bit of extra attention?  Mom was right about spring cleaning – you’re sure to notice an improvement in your ride experience.

 

dog-washing-car

Do you have any tips that help keep your vehicle looking and smelling good?  We’d love to hear about them!

Reference

  1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1379830/How-clean-car-Steering-wheels-times-germs-public-toilet-seat.html  May 2011

 

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Why Mom was Right About Spring Cleaning: Part 1, Grooming

 

Do the words “Spring Cleaning” make you roll your eyes and think of  The Stepford Wives, bleach, and enormous rubber gloves?  If the answer to this is yes, you’re not alone. Although it is common and often necessary to look at giving our homes an extra deep clean at this time of year, other aspects of our lives could potentially benefit from a good spring clean too. This 3-part series looks at a few facets of our lives where a little extra TLC could be worthwhile.

Part 1: Grooming Dogs

During the wetter and colder months, dogs tend to get more dirty, more frequently.  If your pocketbook is still feeling a little light after the holiday season, making extra visits to the groomer may not be a practical option.  To keep your dog healthy and smelling fresh, a more intensive session of at-home grooming may be the answer.

dog-in-bath

Don’t Give Brushing the Brush Off

Although a relatively simple task, the benefits of brushing shouldn’t be ignored. Brushing is excellent for your dog’s coat as it removes any dead hair and avoids mats.  It also helps to distribute the natural oils within the coat, which keeps the coat healthy and looking good too. Most dogs are quite happy to be brushed, but the frequency and duration will depend on the dog’s breed – some will require extensive brushing as part of the daily routine while others will not need brushing as frequently or for as long.  Check what is required for your breed, but also bear in mind that brushing is a fantastic way to bond with your dog, so you may want to brush him more frequently than the bare minimum requirement.

brushing-a-dogs-coat

Splish, Splash

Unlike people, dogs do not need a daily bath.  Experts recommend once a month (unless there is a medical condition), as more frequent bathing strips the coat of the natural oils necessary to keep it shiny and healthy.  Never use shampoo or conditioners designed for humans.  There are plenty of dog shampoos on the market that have been specifically formulated to avoid irritating your pet’s skin, to remove dirt but not the important oils from their coats, and to be easily rinsed from the fur.

After removing your dog’s collar, clean your dog’s ears with an ear cleanser before placing her in the bath, and then gently place cotton balls in her ears to keep them dry during the bathing process.  Use warm water, checking the temperature on your own skin first and then thoroughly saturate the coat. Shampoo the dirtier areas first, working up to the head last, using your hands to massage the skin through the coat.  Use a washcloth to remove dirt from the face. Rinse your dog’s head first and then work down the body, keeping water and shampoo away from the eyes and face where possible. When you rinse the shampoo from the coat, ensure that you rinse all of it out thoroughly to prevent itchy skin. Following up with a leave-in conditioner can be helpful so the coat is more manageable and so it doesn’t get dirty again too quickly. Comb out your dog’s fur while it is wet to prevent tangles – you may find that a detangling spray will help with that also.

dog-in-bath

Drying your dog after a bath can be a challenge, as some dogs (mine included) may enjoy the bathing process, but hate the feeling of being wet after a bath.  One way is to take the natural drying approach, allowing the dog to shake the water from his coat and then letting the coat air dry.  Impressively dogs can shake about 70% of the water from their fur in this way. If you don’t want that amount of water sprayed around your bathroom, towelling your dog dry is probably the way to go.  For those that cannot even tolerate the towel-dry wet feeling, following up with a hair dryer is helpful.  Not all dogs enjoy having a hair dryer blown at them, so if it is a new experience for your dog, introduce her gradually being sure to keep heat and air moving over the entire dog and not concentrated in one area as that could be uncomfortable or even burn skin. If your dog resists the hair dryer or is visibly fearful, just stick to the towel method.

dog-shaking-water-out-of-coat

Keeping Those  Pearly Whites Clean

Ideally, brushing your dog’s teeth should be part of your daily routine.  Use toothpaste specifically formulated for dogs – do not use human toothpaste as the fluoride is toxic to dogs.  In the real world however, no matter how much we love our pets and want the best for their health, incorporating daily brushing of their teeth into our hectic schedules often doesn’t happen.  There are other ways to keep your dog’s teeth clean and breath fresher. One way is to give your dog raw bones, which are excellent for a dog’s teeth, but never give chicken bones or other fragile bones that can splinter easily.  Dental treats can be used as an alternative to regular treats.  Be careful of weight gain in your pet if using these, as some are quite high in calories.

If your dog’s breath smells bad, there is plaque still building up around the gums, your dog has lumps or bumps in the mouth or bleeding gums, or you have other concerns with your dog’s oral health, you should turn to a veterinarian for assistance.

brushing-dogs-teeth

A mani-pedi

For some dogs, walking daily on a sidewalk is sufficient to keep nails at a decent length until a visit to the groomers is possible. For others, this just isn’t sufficient, but many dog owners are fearful of trimming their dog’s nails in case they do it incorrectly.  If your dog has regularly had his nails clipped from a young age, he is probably quite comfortable with the procedure.  Talk to your vet about the best way to trim the nails so that they remain at a manageable length in between groomer visits. Don’t forget the dewclaw, if your dog’s breed has them.

nail-trim-guide

A buzz cut or bangs?

This is another area of dog care that many owners prefer to leave to the professionals, especially if your dog’s breed requires hand stripping.  Again, depending on your dog’s breed, you may be able to tackle some trimming at home, so talk to your vet about how frequently your dog needs its fur trimmed and by how much. If you are feeling brave and decide to have a go, make sure clippers and scissors are sharp, choose a location without distractions and remember that many dogs will get restless quickly, so make it brief.

under-the-dryer

 

Lots of self-service dog wash stores have opened up across the United States over the last few years. These are more expensive than washing your dog in your own home, but are considerably cheaper than taking your dog to a groomer.  Self-service dog washes give you the convenience and ease of using professional-grade grooming equipment to groom your pooch effectively – you can often grab a latte there too!

Wherever you choose to do it, grooming your pet is not only good for the dog’s health and hygiene but provides a great bonding process between owner and dog.  Regular grooming enables the owner to be aware (more quickly) of any health changes that their pet is experiencing. So, Mom was right about spring cleaning, to not only keep your dog fresher and healthier, but hopefully by your side for that bit longer.

Why don’t you share any tips you have for making grooming a fun experience for you and your pooch?

 

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