Patients and pets – a healing combination

Royal Canin Canada is Passionate for Pets! Scientific evidence shows the numerous benefits pets bring to our lives – to their owners and also to society as a whole. This blog post is part of a series that showcases the important role pets play in peoples’ lives by providing companionship and support, and enabling social connections.


In the last few years, the medical community has recognized the tremendous positive impact that companion pets have on our lives, especially during a time of illness and convalescence. Their influence in contributing to the improved outlook of sick and terminally ill patients is undeniable.

Pets have a positive physical, emotional, social and cognitive impact on people. They encourage increased exercise and provide sensory stimulation and comfort. They can help decrease blood pressure, improve depression feelings of alienation, and they offer a diversion from pain. For terminally ill patients who often don’t “look like themselves” and are connected to a host of tubes and machinery, pets provide non-judgemental acceptance and love.

Pets provide a connection to the world outside the hospital.

Zachary's Paws For Healing is a pioneering program that helps sustain relationships between pet owners and their pets when the person's terminal or chronic extended illness has them hospitalized. We also participate in research to support the human-animal bond.

How pet visits happen

Our program ensures the safety and well-being of patients, staff, visitors, and pets. We know these are family pets, and aren’t trained to be in contact with strangers in a strange environment. Pet participants are transported in a large, covered crate on wheels. The cover keeps people from reaching out or talking to the pet, and the wheels ensure the pet never touches the floor. This helps keep the pet calm for the visit, and safeguards people with allergies or who are fearful of animals.

All pets are cleaned, healthy, and up-to-date on their vaccinations. We follow all infectious control protocols while the pet is in the hospital. The patient is covered with a disposable gown and sheet to help contain hair and dander from spreading to other patients or staff. We’ve found that a one-hour visit is well tolerated by most patients and pets; any longer, we’ll see the patient and pet tiring. We offer the patient a pet visit once per week while they are still in hospital.

We see similar behaviours in each pet. They’re a little nervous when they arrive at the hospital, but once they see their human, they settle in to snuggle, to comfort them and to be comforted. Many of these pets suffer from separation anxiety because their human suddenly disappeared, and they’re so relieved to see their person again.

If they’re able, patients like to cuddle and talk to their pets. They kiss and stroke them. They want to hug and be close. Pets sniff their person, and express joy to be near them again. Some patients are nearing the end of their life and are only able to let their pet lie down beside them, feeling their warmth and sensing the closeness. For patients who are agitated, their pet has a calming effect better than any drug.

I’d like to share two of the many patient pet visits we’ve enabled over the past five months.

Grace and Cuddles

Grace had been hospitalized for several weeks, having been diagnosed with liver cancer, and was in serious need of some sense of normalcy back in her life. We brought Grace’s cat Cuddles to visit with her in the sunroom of her unit. Cuddles was so happy to see Grace, she buried her head into the palm of Grace’s hand to be rubbed. Grace sat quietly, cooing and talking to her cat. The joy and peace Grace felt with Cuddles in her lap was amazing to witness – for just a little bit, she could forget she was terminally ill and in the hospital.

Passionate for Pets - Grace and Cuddles

Jules and Hayden

18 year old Jules has spent more than her share of time in and out of hospitals with a serious gastrointestinal disease. She had been in the hospital for 42 days when one day, walking past her room, I saw her through the small window in the door. She looked sad that day, and something told me she had a pet she was missing. I poked my head into her room and when I asked her if she had a pet, she told me she had two dogs that she missed terribly. When I mentioned we could bring her dogs to see her, maybe even the next day, she was thrilled! The next day, Hayden, her Cocker Spaniel, came to visit her.

Hospital staff and her mother told us that when Hayden arrived, it was the first time in 42 days that Jules had smiled. In fact, her mother told us that Jules had a good night simply looking forward to the fact that she’d be seeing her dog soon. Even though she was still in pain, for the first time in weeks, pain wasn't her main focus because she had something to look forward to – her dog.

Passionate for Pets - Jules and Hayden

The Animal Human Bond is so strong, it has the power to calm delirious or confused patients, and it brings peace and comfort to patients who are end-of-life.

Pet visits are a beneficial, non-traditional method of bringing healing to patients in hospital.

Donna is the founder of Zachary's Paws For Healing, which is a legacy for her nephew, Zachary Noble. Donna is married to the love her life, Lyle Jenkins, who puts up with her crazy work schedule. She is owned by three Standard Wirehair Dachshunds and a Great Dane, and in her spare time loves breeding and showing her dogs in Canada and the USA.

Tags: Companion;