This guideline aims to minimise the restriction of access to Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI). It also aims to inform staff, visitors and other patients on the requirements of AAI, and reduce the potential for distress to the therapy dog and its handler.

Florence Nightingale in the 1800s stated that a small animal is often an excellent companion for the sick. Animals have been visiting hospitals since the early 20th century to support patients and relatives whilst they are in hospital. Awareness regarding the benefits of the human-animal bond is increasing due to its implication on the positive health of the human. The number of healthcare settings where AAI are being used is increasing and research has shown that therapy animal visits to hospitals have a positive impact on the patients physically and psychologically.

Evidence suggests patients discharged from a critical care setting have higher levels of depression, anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Hosey et al (2018) describe pet therapy as a method of non-pharmacologic intervention which creates a more humanised environment for patients and families. They found that AAI reduced the symptoms of depression and anxiety and promoted patient engagement in rehabilitation sessions. It also eased physiological symptoms.

The increasing use of social media platforms has allowed the positive experiences of AAI for patients and relatives to be shared widely. This has facilitated the introduction of AAI into critical care, with increasingly positive benefits. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has in recent years observed, as part of their inspections, the positive impact that AAI can have on critically ill patients and their relatives and also the boost in morale it provides to staff. Additionally, both reports on Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (2019) and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (2018) had critical care services rated as ‘Outstanding’ and refer specifically to the AAI therapies in place.