Microbial sharing between pediatric patients and therapy dogs during hospital animal-assisted intervention programs

Kathryn R. Dalton, Kathy Ruble, Laurel E. Redding, Daniel O. Morris, Noel T. Mueller, Roland J. Thorpe, Jacqueline Agnew, Karen C. Carroll, Paul J. Planet, Ronald C. Rubenstein, Allen R. Chen, Elizabeth A. Grice, Meghan F. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Microbial sharing between humans and animals has been demonstrated in a variety of settings. However, the extent of microbial sharing that occurs within the healthcare setting during animal-assisted intervention programs is unknown. Understanding microbial transmission between patients and therapy dogs can provide important insights into potential health benefits for patients, in addition to addressing concerns regarding potential pathogen transmission that limits program utilization. This study evaluated for potential microbial sharing between pediatric patients and therapy dogs and tested whether patient–dog contact level and a dog decolonization protocol modified this sharing. Patients, therapy dogs, and the hospital environment were sampled before and after every group therapy session and samples underwent 16S rRNA sequencing to characterize microbial communities. Both patients and dogs experienced changes in the relative abundance and overall diversity of their nasal microbiome, suggesting that the exchange of microorganisms had occurred. Increased contact was associated with greater sharing between patients and therapy dogs, as well as between patients. A topical chlorhexidine-based dog decolonization was associated with decreased microbial sharing between therapy dogs and patients but did not significantly affect sharing between patients. These data suggest that the therapy dog is both a potential source of and a vehicle for the transfer of microorganisms to patients but not necessarily the only source. The relative contribution of other potential sources (e.g., other patients, the hospital environment) should be further explored to determine their relative importance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1054
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Animal-assisted interventions
  • Hospital-associated pathogens
  • Microbiome
  • Patient safety


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