• The widespread inclusion of companion animals into the homes and lives of humans has prompted a considerable amount of research into the health benefits of such relationships.
• Findings seem to confirm that if humans interact with companion animals they are likely to experience various health benefits.
• Programmes that encourage and facilitate pet visiting schemes in hospitals have developed and animals can often be found in in-patient and long-term care facilities, with the aim of contributing towards a positive therapeutic milieu.
• Despite supportive research evidence, the adoption of such a therapeutic activity may have been restricted by the belief that client safety could be compromised by an increase in the risk of infection acquired from animals, allergic responses and bites.
• This paper explores the literature on these risks and concludes that, in a controlled health care environment in urban Europe or North America and with responsible human behaviour the potential benefits of sharing our lives with companion animals, either at home or hospital, far outweigh the apparently insignificant risks.
• Recommendations aimed at limiting the potential risk of infection and guidelines for the safe management of pet therapy are developed.