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Caring for the dogs who care for us:

AAHA releases first veterinary guidelines for working, assistance, and therapy dogs

Lakewood, CONovember 1, 2021—Dogs play critical roles in keeping our communities safe and running smoothly. They serve on the frontlines in the military and in emergency response situations, and they help us sniff out everything from explosives to narcotics and contraband to medical conditions with their sense of smell that is capable of detecting odor at 1 to 2 parts per trillion—between 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans. 

The 2021 AAHA Working, Assistance, and Therapy Dog Guidelines are the first comprehensive consensus report to guide veterinary teams who care for: 

  • Protection dogs (police, military, security) 
  • Odor/scent detection dogs  
  • Service dogs for people with diagnosed disabilities or physical limitations  
  • Emotional support dogs 
  • Therapy dogs 

The guidelines detail what to look for with each type of dog, including a heads up about unintentional consequences of some treatments. For example, being careful of medications that could weaken dogs’ sense of smell or avoiding overstimulation of protection dogs.  

The high value of working, assistance, and therapy dogs 

Many working dogs undergo extensive training and have rigorous physical demands put on them. These factors make them inherently valuable and in need of a high level of primary veterinary care. 

“The veterinary team needs to be aware of how these dogs are different from other patients, especially if a working dog shows up unannounced and in need of immediate care,” said AAHA Chief Medical Officer Jessica Vogelsang, DVM. “There is no working dog specialist that the veterinarian can refer the patient to. These guidelines outline some of the critical things to be aware of, especially when treating high-value dogs who save human lives.” 

Speaking the ‘working dog’ language 

The guidelines include a glossary of terms related to these patients and help clarify the difference between a service dog, such as a seeing-eye dog, an emotional support dog who has no specific job, but gives support just by being there, and a therapy dog who participates in goal-directed therapy under the supervision of a healthcare professional like an occupational therapist or psychologist.   

Working dog clients are different 

A working dog handler is attuned to their canine partner in a similar way to a zookeeper responsible for a rare exotic species, or a trainer of an elite equine athlete. The guidelines recommend veterinary teams collaborate with working dog handlers and trainers much more closely than with a typical pet owner and anticipate that there may be exceptions to the normal way of doing things, particularly when caring for highly trained and specialized dogs. 

Learn more and download free resources at aaha.org/workingdog. 

The 2021 AAHA Working, Assistance, and Therapy Dog Guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from the AAHA Foundation, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis Petcare.  

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About AAHA 

Since 1933, the American Animal Hospital Association has been the only organization to accredit veterinary hospitals throughout the United States and Canada according to more than 900 standards directly correlated to high-quality medicine and compassionate care. Accreditation in veterinary medicine is voluntary. The AAHA-accredited logo is the best way to know a practice has been evaluated by a third-party. Look for the AAHA logo or visit aaha.org.