Animals in Healthcare: World Animals Day 2023

Service animal

The profound bond between humans and animals has always been a topic of admiration and intrigue. As 4 October is World Animal Day, we look at ways animals have contributed to the healthcare world.

Beyond companionship, animals have come to play a unique role in healthcare. From offering physical assistance to providing emotional support, their contributions to human well-being are immeasurable.

Service Animals: More than Just Helpers

  • Guide Dogs: Perhaps the most recognised service animals, guide dogs are trained to assist the visually impaired, helping them navigate their environment safely.
  • Seizure Alert Dogs: These dogs are trained to detect and alert their handlers of an impending seizure. Their timely alerts allow individuals to find a safe space or alert someone nearby.
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs: Through their heightened sense of smell, some dogs can detect changes in blood sugar levels and alert their diabetic handlers to eat something or take insulin.

Therapeutic Power of Animals

  • Equine Therapy: Horses have been used for therapy for individuals with physical disabilities and mental health conditions. The rhythmic movement of horseback riding can improve muscle tone, balance, and coordination.
  • Aquarium Therapy: Watching fish glide effortlessly in aquariums can reduce stress, anxiety, and blood pressure. Some hospitals even employ large fish tanks to calm patients awaiting surgery.
  • Birds and Small Pets: Birds, guinea pigs, and rabbits in care homes can provide comfort and an opportunity for patients to care for another living being, offering a sense of purpose.

Emotional Support and Companionship

  • Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Unlike service animals trained for specific tasks, ESAs provide emotional support to individuals with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Their mere presence can offer comfort and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Pets in Long-Term Care Facilities: Regular visits from animals or having resident animals in eldercare homes can provide seniors with a sense of companionship and reduce feelings of loneliness.

Animals in Child Healthcare

Additionally, hospital stays or regular medical treatments can be daunting for children. Therapy dogs or cats in pediatric wards can:

  • Offer comfort during painful procedures.
  • Reduce anxiety before surgeries.
  • Encourage mobility after surgeries.
  • Provide a sense of normalcy in a hospital environment.

Potential Breakthrough in Transplants

In a previous article, we reported on the second successful pig heart transplant into a human receipient. Consequently, if research and future successful transplants continue,  this could be the breakthrough to help solve the organ donor shortage globally.

The Science Behind It

Interactions with animals can lead to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and increases feelings of happiness. Spending time with animals can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels.


The profound connection transcends beyond companionship. In healthcare, they have proven invaluable allies, offering physical aid, emotional relief, and therapeutic benefits. As research continues to uncover how animals can assist in human health, one thing remains certain: our bond with the animal kingdom is healing in more ways than one.

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