Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Caring for Patients with Service Dogs: Information for Healthcare Providers

Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Caring for Patients with Service Dogs: Information for Healthcare Providers

Article excerpt

With advancing technology, patients utilize many different medical devices. In order to provide complete, holistic, and patient-centered care, it is important to have a working knowledge about such devices and how they assist the patient. There is little information available for healthcare providers (HCP) about the roles of service dogs and professionals in caring for patients who use service dogs (Fairman & Huebner, 2000). Holistic care is difficult to achieve when a patient's service dog is disregarded as a non-essential member of the patient healthcare team; however, service dogs are often excluded from the patient plan of care (Fairman & Huebner, 2000). In many cases, separating service dogs from patients in acute care settings is counterproductive to health and well-being.

The use of service dogs has risen considerably (Duncan, 2000). As their use continues to increase, nurses will encounter more service dogs when caring for patients. Improving education for healthcare providers about the use of service dogs will build trust and provide better care for patients who rely on service dogs to keep them safe and assist in maintaining health.

This article provides background information about use of dogs, and discusses benefits to patients and access challenges for providers. The author reviews ADA laws applicable to service dog use and potential challenges and risks in acute care settings. The role of the healthcare professional is illustrated with an exemplar, along with recommendations for future research and nursing implications related to care of patients with servic dogs.


The concept of using dogs to aid people with disabilities has been around for centuries. Examples of the use of dogs date as far back as the 9th century when dogs were provided to individuals with physical disabilities in a Belgian community (Shubert, 2012). In 1780, the use of a service dog for a blind man was first documented (Wenthold & Savage, 2007). Additionally, animals were used as a treatment for mental illness as early as the 18th century (Shubert. 2012). The first formal service dog school, The Seeing Eye, was opened in the United States in 1929 (Wenthold & Savage, 2007).

The use of service dogs has expanded significantly beyond the "seeing eye" dog. Dogs are used for a variety of services to aid their disabled handlers. Dogs assist their handlers with hearing, mobility, diabetes, seizures, allergies, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other conditions (Mills & Yeager, 2012: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2016). Research findings support the effectiveness of dogs in sniffing out cancer cells for numerous cancers, including prostate (Cornu, Cancel-Tassin. Ondet. Girardet. & Cussenot. 2011), lung (Amundsen. Sundstrom. Buvik. Gederaas. & Haaverstad. 2014). ovarian (Horvath, Andersson, & Nemes, 2013), colon (de Boer et al.. 2014). breast (Gordon et al.. 2008). and melanoma (Cambell. Farmery, George. Farrant. 2013).

Lengthy waiting lists at training facilities further demonstrate the increasing demand for service dogs to assist people with disabilities (Winkle. Crowe. & Hendrix. 2012). Requests for information about service dogs to the National Service Dog Center rose from a few thousand requests in 1995 to well over 34,000 requests in 1999 (Duncan. 2000). As the use of service dogs increases, so will their presence in healthcare facilities.

Benefits to Patients

Patients benefit in many ways from service dogs. Healthy People 2020 seeks to improve health and "promote full community participation" for people with disabilities (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2014. para 1). Service dogs help people with disabilities better meet each of these goals. Not only do dogs assist handlers with their disabilities, but they can also provide emotional support (Hubert. Tousignant. Routhier. Corriveau. & Champagne. 2013: Fairman & Huebner. …

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