The healing power of animals

Dogs and cats have amazing abilities to help humans heal both physically or mentally. 

It's a trend that's been 50 years in the making. Animal therapy dates back to the 1940s when the very first therapy dog became one of countless inspiring stories to emerge in the aftermath of World War II. When a tiny Yorkshire terrier named ”Smoky“ visited her wounded master, Corporal William Wynne, at a military hospital in the Philippines, nurses noticed that her presence boosted the energy and lifted the spirits of the other wounded soldiers as well as the corporal. Soon, Smoky had been nicknamed "The Yorkie Doodle Dandy" and was accompanying Dr. Charles Mayo (a founder of the famous Mayo Clinic) on rounds throughout the hospital.

New research has shown that the soothing sounds of a cat purring can aid the body in a number of ways. 

  • A cat’s purr fluctuates between 20-140 Hz, and therefore falls into the frequency range which has been proven to be medically therapeutic. 
  • A cat purring can help lower stress and blood pressure; cat owners have 40% less heart attacks than non cat owners. 
  • Furthermore, purring can ease suffering and anxiety, alleviate depression, loneliness and low morale. 
  • It can also improve human immune system functioning and increase the neurochemicals associated with relaxation and bonding. 
  • Finally the purring vibration is helpful for healing tendons and muscles, infections and swellings and promoting bone strength. 

What better reasons do you need than to adopt a cat?  


Dogs on the other hand have long been trained to help the blind, deaf and physically disabled and are amazing in their abilities in this regard.   

  • They can often detect when someone is about to have an epileptic attack or similar.  
  • Dogs can smell cancer; notify their owner if there is something wrong with another dog or family member for example. 
  • One lady tells how her Pit Bull wouldn’t stop running between her room and her young son’s room in the middle of the night so she got up to check and lo and behold the son was struggling to breathe.  His life was saved by the dog.


A  Japanese study found dog owners visited the doctor 30% less often than non dog owners.  Dog owners have lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  Dogs especially can sense when you are unwell and so will often remain by your side and ‘care’ for you.  When you are anxious your cortisol, or stress hormone, kicks in yet being in the presence of a dog can reduce this considerably. 


Organisations around the world have started up where people have come to recognise the healing powers of animals.  Dogs are excellent for aiding recovery and Top Dogs is one of those special places which was established many years ago with the motto ‘TOP DOGS spread smiles for miles’.  They regularly visit hospitals, hospices, frail care homes, retirement homes where they bring company, support, comfort and focus to those they meet.  

Their President, Angie Thornton writes: “we were visiting terminally ill patients, and as we usually do, we split into small groups and each group visited different patients.  However there was one particular man who requested all the dogs visit him, a request we were happy to grant.   On our next visit the Sister asked us if we remembered that particular patient, so of course we said we did. She then said “you made his last day on earth a happy one” and went onto say he’d died that night, but all day he’d been telling everyone about his visit from the dogs, and how happy they had made him……   We’ve had many reports from patients in hospital telling us what a difference the dogs made to them, taking their mind off their fears or their pain for a while, and how the dynamics of the day were changed by the sight, sound or touch of the dogs.”


When you are sick you can talk to a pet about anything and they’ll look as though they are listening intently, they don’t get fed up with you moaning about the pain or whatever or feeling sorry for yourself.  They are just happy to just be with you.   Simply knowing you are not alone as you face your illness is a great boost and there are many stories of how dogs and cats have aided recovery.

So next time you stroke your dog or cat remember the benefits they give to you unselfishly and make sure you give back to them too.

Article by:  Lucy Payne


  1. Rinda Koster - Middleburg, South Africa. Her cat is always sitting on her children purring when they are ill.  Otherwise the cat ignores the children.
  2. Glenis du Toit - Cape Town, South Africa. Her dog is a Pets As Therapy Dog and visits the residents Hellen Keller home in Cape Town.  Robbie (the dog) always sits on the patients side where they seem to need 'therapy' the most.



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