• The online Community for people with spinal cord injury, their relatives and friends

  • The online Community for people with spinal cord injury, their relatives and friends

  • The online Community for people with spinal cord injury, their relatives and friends

Animal Helpers for People with SCI

Not just dogs but dolphins, monkeys and horses

Since ancient times, animals have been living along with people as pets and companions. They offer unconditional affection and joy to humans. The close relationship between animals and humans has become as natural as a human instinct.

Therefore, animals are often used as service animals or even therapy animals. They offer emotional and physical support to patients and can have amazing effects on people’s physical and psychological health. Here we present some assistive animals which could be useful for people with spinal cord injury (SCI) as well.

Man’s best friend

Dogs are the most common animals used as assistance animals. They are sensitive to the changes of human facial expressions, behaviors and emotions. This makes them one of the easiest animals to be trained.

Two common types of assistance dogs are service dogs and therapy dogs. They are trained for different purposes: Service dogs help just one person with his/her specific needs. They increase their owner’s sense of independence by handling multiple tasks, for which their owner might otherwise need another person’s help. This makes sevice dogs magnificent companions also for people with SCI.

On the other hand, therapy dogs work with more people in various situations, for example, bringing comfort, reducing stress, improving motor skills and building trusting relationships with other people. For these purposes, two breeds are frequently trained as therapy dogs: Golden Retrievers and Labradors. A study has shown that the interaction between dogs and people boosted the dog owner’s happiness level by releasing oxytocin and improving the emotional state of individuals.

Therapeutic dolphins

Dolphins as therapeutic animals have become increasingly popular in recent decades. Dolphin-assisted therapies are usually performed in pools with captive dolphins, along with a therapist helping the individuals to engage in specific activities with the dolphins. These therapies are considered to improve motor functions, speech and language abilities. A hospital in the U.S. has already introduced such therapies to their patients with SCI a few years back.

Dolphin-assisted therapies are offered in many tourist resorts. The price is relatively high, depending on the number of sessions and the hotel where the therapy takes place. However, dolphin-assisted therapy is still a controversy in society as many consider it to be unethical or even dangerous. Moreover, there seems to be no relevant proof supporting the dolphins’ beneficial effects on any condition. Therefore, studies are needed to gather proof supporting the beneficial effects of dolphin therapy and how the therapy can be carried out ethically.

Monkeys’ helping hands

Capuchin monkeys are well known as service animals helping people with limited mobility. The small hands of the capuchin monkey are suitable for a variety of tasks such as feeding, personal care, fetching and manipulating objects. A study has shown that capuchin monkeys are ideal service animals providing owners with a sense of independence and positively impacting their lives.

In addition, these furry helpers can also serve as therapeutic animals, helping people with disabilites to cope with depression, loneliness and isolation. The natural curiosity of capuchin monkeys and their physical features make them great companions for people with SCI.

The therapeutic qualities of horses

Another useful animal for people with SCI is the graceful horse. Horses have been used successfully as therapeutic animals for many years, primarily improving significantly postural control and balance. The horseback riding works by moving the riders’ body in a way similar to the human gait. Apart from the physical benefits, horses provide emotional and mental rewards. The therapeutic power of horseback riding is recognized by a number of health professionals and associations, such as American Physical Therapy Association and American Occupational Therapy Association.

People with SCI use horses to strengthen their body and mind, build character and bring joy to their life. The therapeutic effects of horses could be experienced through either recreational riding with the help of family and friends, or through especially designed rehabilitation therapy programs known as hippotherapy. During hippotherapy, riders enjoy horseback riding under the guidance of professional therapists, guiding both the horse and the rider in order to obtain the best motor and sensory inputs.

Human-animal bond is undeniable. Besides the above mentioned animals, there are many others, such as guinea pigs, cats, birds and rabbits, which play an important role in complementary therapies and provide emotional support for humans.

Further online information on assistive animals and animal-assisted therapies:

Have you ever taken part in an animal-assisted therapy? If not, which one would you give a try?

Comments (0)

There are no comments on this topic yet.
Be the first to comment!
Most Recent Answers
4210 odyssita
Explaining what life with a chronic disability is like
Hi cAro, all the best for your research! I am very curious to hear about the results once they are being published. Thank you for researching this...
6 odyssita 2018-05-02
3815 Wheelie
Good news for all who would like to try out the Scewo by themselves: according the Scewo constructors, the feedback on their invention was so...
5 Johannes 2018-03-12
Ask the Expert
Most Recent Answers
3 Dr._Hans_old 2015-07-20
3 Dr._Hans_old 2015-05-07

Most Recent Blog Posts
Accessible ski holiday in the heart of Switzerland
Find the best sit-ski holiday in one of Switzerland’s most beautiful regions
Sport stacking – more than just cups
It is said it’s so addictive, that if you start playing, you won’t stop. Do you dare to try?
kitwan 2019-11-12 In Society
Taiwan’s Patient Right to Autonomy Act
The first “natural death” law in Asia
Most Read
Anatomy and physiology of respiration
Breathing is the most normal thing in the world for us. We hardly think about it, even though we breathe in and out about 20,000 times per day. We breathe more when we are active and exerting ourselves, and we breathe less when we are...
What are contractures and how do they develop? Contractures are shortenings of muscles, tendons or ligaments that have a limiting effect on the movements of the joints. The normal ability to move a joint is lost. Contractures are frequently...
In some cases, support is needed for cleaning the nasopharyngeal space and keeping it free from secretion. For this purpose, suctioning is performed through the nose and, if necessary, the mouth. This is particularly necessary if the nose cannot be...

About the Community
Most Recent Topics
2019-11-19 In Latest
The car-sharing breakthrough for wheelchair users
Soon it won’t be a dream anymore to car-share as a wheelchair user. Recently, the world’s first car-sharing system for wheelchair users called “WheeM-i” has been showcased at the GITEX Technology...
2019-10-24 In Latest
Free Tickets to Swiss Handicap 2019
Swiss Handicap will take place again in Lucerne this year on 29th and 30th November with the theme “work”. Over 100 exhibitors will gather at this unique national trade fair to promote independence...
2019-10-22 In Latest
Adaptive Halloween Costumes
Last-minute preparation is rarely possible for people with disabilities. However, it’s feasible this year for children with disabilities who like to dress up for trick or treat. Target, one of the...


Swiss Paraplegic Research
Guido A. Zäch Strasse 4
6207 Nottwil

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
T 0800 727 236 (from Switzerland, free of charge)
T +41 41 939 65 55 (from other countries, charges apply)

Be part of the Community – sign up now!