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The Legality of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Are there laws governing whether animals can be present in dental office waiting rooms and operatories?

QUESTION:Are there laws governing whether animals can be present in dental office waiting rooms and operatories? I am a dental hygienist in a
practice that allows dogs, even those that are not service animals.It seems unsanitary to have animals in the dental setting.

ANSWER: Several studies in the medical literature investigate the role animals play in the well-being of humans, with most showing that pets demonstrate positive effects on subjects’ mental and physical health.1–3 More well-designed research on the use of animals in health care (known as animal-assisted therapy) is currently underway.4

Due to the known benefits that animals provide, the presence of pets—primarily dogs—in the dental office has become more common. Although research is limited regarding animals in the dental practice, many proponents claim that dogs calm patients and reduce dental anxiety—especially among children. Dental practice managers may view animal-assisted therapy as a practice builder because some patients will eagerly anticipate dental appointments for the opportunity to visit their canine friends. 

On the other hand, there are concerns related to infection control and the legality of animal-assisted therapy. Currently, there are no laws stating that animals cannot be present in dental practices. Dental offices must abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows service animals to be present when their owners are receiving treatment. If a dental practice is not following proper infection control procedures as dictated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guidelines, then immediate action should be taken. The presence of animals in and of itself, however, does not run afoul of these regulations.5


  1. Matchock RL. Pet ownership and physical health. Curr Opin Psychiatry.2015;28:386–392.
  2. Cherniack EP, Cherniack AR. The benefit of pets and animal-assisted therapyto the health of older individuals. Curr Gerontol Geriatr Res. 2014;2014:623203.
  3. Hemsworth S, Pizer B. Pet ownership in immunocompromised children—areview of the literature and survey of existing guidelines. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2006;10:117–127.
  4. Knisely JS, Barker SB, Barker RT. Research on benefits of canine-assistedtherapy for adults in nonmilitary settings. US Army Med Dep J. 2012;Apr-Jun:30–37.5. United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Law and Regulation. Available at: October 30, 2015.


From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. December 2015;12(12):66.


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