Therapy Dogs Might Be Harmful to Your Health

The animals might be a danger to people with compromised immune systems, say researchers.
Lothair and Molly, American Red Cross certified therapy dogs, visit a patient at U.S. Air Force Hospital Langley, Va.

Pippi, Poppy, Badger, and Winnie would love to meet you. And the youngsters battling cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore certainly love seeing these therapy dogs. Problem is that the pooches might be carrying more than love to the children.

Therapy dog programs have been shown that just petting and interacting with the animals helps with a range of ailments including stress, depression, high blood pressure and, as Stat reports, can even reduce the amount of medications people need to take.

But Johns Hopkins researchers who looked at 45 children getting cancer therapy also found that interaction with the dogs increased the likelihood of getting MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, by six times. The results of the unpublished study were released last Friday at a scientific meeting.

“Among kids who had no MRSA, the researchers found the superbug on about 10% of the samples taken from those kids after the dog visits,” Stat reports. “They also found MRSA on nearly 40% of the samples from the dogs. The researchers also determined that the more time someone spent with the animals, the greater the chance of ending up with the bacteria.”

However, the bacteria level in the dogs was greatly reduced when researchers asked the owners to bathe the animals with a special shampoo before the visits. “They also had the dogs patted down every five to 10 minutes with disinfecting wipes at the hospital.”