The following information is provided as informal advice only. It should not be construed as legal advice. For more information about blindness, service animals, or the National Federation of the blind, please contact
Marion Gwizdala, President
National Association of Guide Dog Users
National Federation of the Blind
Service Animals in health Care Facilities
Centers for Disease control and Prevention. (2003). Guidelines for environmental infection control in health care facilities. June 3, pp 108 – 110.
3. Service Animals Although this section provides an overview about service animals in health-care settings, it cannot address every situation or question that may arise (see Appendix E - Information Resources). A service animal is any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. (1366, 1376) A service animal is not considered a pet but rather an animal trained to provide assistance to a person because of a disability. Title III of the "Americans with Disabilities Act" (ADA) of 1990 mandates that persons with disabilities accompanied by service animals be allowed access with their service animals into places of public accommodation, including restaurants, public transportation, schools, and health-care facilities. (1366, 1376) In health-care facilities, a person with a disability requiring a service animal may be an employee, a visitor, or a patient. An overview of the subject of service animals and their presence in health-care facilities has been published. (1366) No evidence suggests that animals pose a more significant risk of transmitting infection than people; therefore, service animals should not be excluded from such areas, unless an individual patient's situation or a particular animal poses greater risk that cannot be mitigated through reasonable measures. If health-care personnel, visitors, and patients are permitted to enter care areas (e.g., inpatient rooms, some ICUs, and public areas) without taking additional precautions to prevent transmission of infectious agents (e.g., donning gloves, gowns, or masks), a clean, healthy, well behaved service animal should be allowed access with its handler. (1366) Similarly, if immunocompromised patients are able to receive visitors without using protective garments or equipment, an exclusion of service animals from this area would not be justified. (1366)
Because health-care facilities are covered by the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, a person with a disability may be accompanied by a service animal within the facility unless the animal's presence or behavior creates a fundamental alteration in the nature of a facility's services in a particular area or a direct threat to other persons in a particular area. (1366) A "direct threat" is defined as a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be mitigated or eliminated by modifying policies, practices, or procedures. (1376) The determination that a service animal poses a direct threat in any particular healthcare setting must be based on an individualized assessment of the service animal, the patient, and the health-care situation. When evaluating risk in such situations, health-care personnel should consider the nature of the risk (including duration and severity); the probability that injury will occur; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk (J. Wodatch, U.S. Department of Justice, 2000). The person with a disability should contribute to the risk-assessment process as part of a pre-procedure health-care provider/patient conference. Excluding a service animal from an OR or similar special care areas (e.g., burn units, some ICUs, PE units, and any other area containing equipment critical for life support) is appropriate if these areas are considered to have "restricted access" with regards to the general public. General infection control measures that dictate such limited access include:
a) the area is required to meet environmental criteria to minimize the risk of disease transmission;
b) strict attention to hand hygiene and absence of dermatologic conditions; and
c) barrier protective measures [e.g., using gloves, wearing gowns and masks] are indicated for persons in the affected space. No infection-control measures regarding the use of barrier precautions could be reasonably imposed on the service animal.
Excluding a service animal that becomes threatening because of a perceived danger to its handler during treatment also is appropriate; however, exclusion of such an animal must be based on the actual behavior of the particular animal, not on speculation about how the animal might behave.
Another issue regarding service animals is whether to permit persons with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals during all phases of their stay in
the health-care facility. Healthcare personnel should discuss all aspects of anticipatory care with the patient who uses a service animal. Health-care personnel may not exclude a service animal because health-care staff may be able to perform the same services that the service animal does (e.g., retrieving dropped items and guiding an otherwise ambulatory person to the restroom). Similarly, health-care personnel can not exclude service
animals because the health-care staff perceive a lack of need for the service animal during the person's stay in the health-care facility. A person with a disability is entitled to independent access (i.e., to be accompanied by a service animal unless the animal poses a direct threat or a fundamental alteration in the nature of services); "need" for the animal is not a valid factor in either analysis. For some forms of care (e.g., ambulation as physical therapy following total hip replacement or knee replacement), the service animal should not be used in place of a credentialed health-care worker who directly provides therapy. However, service animals need not be restricted from being in the presence of its handler during this time; in addition, rehabilitation and discharge planning should incorporate the patient's future use of the animal. The health-care personnel and the patient with a disability should discuss both the possible need for the service animal to be separated from its handler for a period of time during nonemergency care and an alternate plan of care for the service animal in the event the patient is unable or unwilling to provide that care. This plan might include family members taking the animal out of the facility several times a day for exercise and elimination, the animal staying with relatives, or boarding off-site. Care of the service animal, however, remains the obligation of the person with the disability, not the health-care staff.
Although animals potentially carry zoonotic pathogens transmissible to man, the risk is minimal with a healthy, clean, vaccinated, well-behaved, and well-trained service animal, the most common of which are dogs and cats. No reports have been published regarding infectious disease that affects humans originating in service dogs. Standard cleaning procedures are sufficient following occupation of an area by a service animal. (1366) Clean-up of spills of animal urine, feces, or other body substances can be accomplished with blood/body substance procedures outlined in the Environmental Services section of this guideline. No special bathing procedures are required prior to a service animal accompanying its handler into a health-care facility.
Providing access to exotic animals (e.g., reptiles and non-human primates) that are used as service animals is problematic. Concerns about these animals are discussed in two published reviews. (1331, 1366) Because some of these animals exhibit high-risk behaviors that may increase the potential for zoonotic disease transmission (e.g., herpes B infection), providing health-care facility access to nonhuman primates used as service animals is discouraged, especially if these animals might come into contact with the general public. (1361, 1362)
Health-care administrators should consult the Americans with Disabilities Act for guidance when developing policies about service animals in their facilities. (1366) Requiring documentation for access of a service animal to an area generally accessible to the public would impose a burden on a person with a disability. When health-care workers are not certain that an animal is a service animal, they may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability; however, no certification or other documentation of service animal status can be required. (1377)