Paw hygiene no reason to ban assistance dogs from hospitals

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dog paw hygiene
Photo: eglazunoff 123RF

According to a UN agreement, assistance dogs like guide dogs, signal dogs and medical response dogs are welcome in hospitals and other public places. However, in practice, they are regularly refused entry. Hygiene reasons are often given as the main argument for this. 

Now research from the Netherlands—and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health—shows that the paws of assistance dogs are cleaner than the shoe soles of their users, and thus, paw hygiene is no reason to ban assistance dogs from hospitals.

Over 10,000 people in Europe use an assistance dog; think of guide dogs for people with a visual impairment, hearing dogs for people with a hearing impairment, medical response service dogs and psychiatric service dogs.

According to a UN agreement and the Dutch law, these dogs are welcome in stores, hospitals and other public places. However, in practice, many assistance dog users and their dogs are regularly refused entry. In the Netherlands, four out of five assistance dog users indicate that they regularly experience problems with this.

Often, hygiene reasons are given as the main argument for refusing entry to assistance dogs. Research by Utrecht University now shows that the paws of assistance dogs are cleaner than the shoe soles of their users, and thus, paw hygiene is no reason to ban assistance dogs from hospitals.

To investigate this, the researchers took samples from the paws of 25 assistance dogs and the shoe soles of their users. For comparison, they also investigated an equally large group of pet dogs and their owners. 

They then examined the samples for poop bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae), which are very common outdoors, and for an important diarrheal bacteria (Clostridium difficile).

“The dogs’ paws turned out to be cleaner than the soles of their [owners’] shoes,” Jasmijn Vos said.

“This makes the hygiene argument that is often used to ban assistance dogs from public locations invalid.”

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