Paw patrol: The healing power of pets

Aussies love our furry and feathered friends, but we’re only just beginning to understand how pets benefit our health and wellbeing.

Humans have been keeping animals as pets since ancient times – archaeologists uncovered a person from 10,000 BC holding a puppy, and many Egyptian drawings and paintings depict cats inside homes.

And as House of Wellness TV presenter Caroline Pemberton discovered, our love for animals is showing no signs of abating.

Australians have the highest pet ownership in the world – more than 24 milliion in all.

Pets are fun – and good for our health

“Pets allow us to feel empathy for another being and to connect,” says Bondi Vet Dr Kate Adams.

“Children who grow up with pets will have fewer respiratory tract infections, use fewer antibiotics and recover from illness and injury quicker.”

The Australian Companion Animal Council agrees, saying people with pets visit their doctor less, have lower cholesterol and blood pressure, deal better with stress and have less risk factors associated with heart disease.

pet therapy cats

How pets are used in therapy

It’s for these reasons that animal-based therapy, using pets as a form of treatment, is fast growing in popularity.

Delta Therapy Dogs is the largest program of its kind in Australia.

It has more than 1000 volunteers and their dogs, who connect with 20,000 Australians in hospitals and aged care homes every week.

Delta dog teams have been able to encourage residents to leave the confines of their rooms for the first time in months, to extend their hand post-stroke or surgery, to walk, talk, smile and laugh, and to reminisce about their own animals, says Caroline.

But canine carers aren’t the only animals ruffling feathers when it comes to pet therapy.

Turning fowl for therapy

The Whiddon Kelso Aged Care facility in Bathurst is trialling HenPower, a unique initiative pioneered in the UK that uses hens to help alleviate loneliness and depression, fight dementia and calm residents.

“It’s reducing social isolation, depression and anxiety and encourages people to start conversations they may not have been able to start previously,” says Nicola Mahara, Director of Care Services.

“Who’d have thought a 94-year-old woman would love a chicken!” says ‘hensioner’ Verley.

Learn more about Delta Therapy Dogs and HenPower at Whiddon and catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.

Want to know more about living with pets? The benefits are real, but here’s what to be aware of if you have an unhealthy pet in your home.