Hospitalization of your beloved pet is tough on both ends of the leash. Difficult for your pet, because they are injured or ill and away from home. Difficult for you because you are worried sick about whether or not they will get better and worried sick about how scared they must be away from their family. A visit to the veterinary hospital should make everyone feel better, right? Well, I spoke with my AMC colleagues; I got more than one opinion.
The Case FOR
The Animal Medical Center has thousands of critically ill pets hospitalized in its ICU every year. I asked the Head Nurse, Theresa Kilichowski, LVT about her experience with pet owner visits to ICU patients. She feels it is very important for owners to visit their hospitalized pet to lessen the fear associated with being in a strange place with unfamiliar faces, particularly when the pet doesn’t feel well and doesn’t understand what is happening. For most pets, seeing the people they love gives them a positive feeling and encourages the healing process. Many pets will eat a little bit, interact more with the nursing staff and show more interest in what’s going on around them after a visit. Visits also give the owner a chance to meet and talk to the nursing staff. Many owners feel less anxious when they see first hand the level of attention and care their pet is receiving.
The Case AGAINST
For many years I have worked with a woman who has only gotten wiser as she has gotten older. She consistently discourages pet owners from visiting their recovering pets while they are in the hospital. Her intuition tells her both ends of the leash suffer because of the visit. In her opinion, a particularly tough day for a visit is the day of a major procedure, and on this issue I agree wholeheartedly. The pet is sedated from pain medications and is likely attached to a myriad of wires hooked to various monitors. Sometimes the pet is too sleepy to recognize the owner and the owner is upset not only by the lack of a greeting from the pet, but by the monitors flashing and beeping. If the pet is doing well and slated to go home within a couple of days, she recommends not visiting. Even though Ms. Kilichowski is a big supporter of owner visitation, she warns that some pets become so agitated during the visit or after the owner leaves that it is detrimental to their recovery. For those pets, we recommend discontinuing the visits.
Recently, there has been an interest in scientifically evaluating the benefit of visiting a hospitalized pet. Late last summer, I was lucky to be invited to the Merial-NIH National Veterinary Scholars Program where some of the preliminary results were discussed. Two pilot studies which may shed some light on the to visit or not to visit question were presented in the abstract session. Both studies were similar and evaluated the effect of owner visits to dogs hospitalized for more than 48 hours. The findings should be considered preliminary but were surprising. Researchers expected heart rate and blood pressure to decrease during the owner visits since the presence of the owner was hypothesized to relax the pet. Data showed an unexpected increase in both heart rate and blood pressure. The second study evaluated pain. Dogs did seem less painful during the owner’s visit, but near the end of the visit pain scores increased and stayed elevated for a period of time after the visit. These two studies suggest visits may be more beneficial for the human than the hospitalized dog!
So if your Fluffy or Fido is in the hospital, listen to your veterinarian when it comes visiting. For a short hospital stay, a visit may not be necessary or advisable, but if the nursing staff or your veterinarian requests that you visit, consider the visit part of the prescription for a swift recovery.
This blog may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.
For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.