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Animals: a source of innovation in health

Animals: a source of innovation in health

But the role animals play in health innovation goes well beyond that of "guinea pigs." In fact, their contribution is complex, diverse and increasingly well documented:

Help to maintain a healthy lifestyle

A growing body of research tends to show the positive contribution of animals in the promotion and maintenance of healthy lifestyles. For instance, simply walking their dogs year-round helps people staying active and connecting with others, two important determinants of health (Lail et al, 2011).

Early warning of attack

Some studies have underlined how dogs can provide an early warning of an epileptic fit or a hypoglycemia attack (Mayon-White, 2005), while others have shown that the canine olfactory system may detect various types of cancer (Hideto et al, 2011).

Dogs helping people with visual or mobility impairments

The essential contribution of specially trained dogs on the quality of life of people with visual or mobility impairments is increasingly recognized. The Quebec Agence d’évaluation des technologies et des modes d’intervention en santé recommends "that mobility assistance dogs be added to the list of technical aids covered by the program administered by the RAMQ under the Health Insurance Act and that the Regulation respecting devices which compensate for a physical deficiency be amended accordingly" (AETMIS, 2007: ix).

Animals for therapy

Several studies also document the use of animals in the treatment of various physical, neurological or mental problems in humans. A recent meta-analysis concludes that therapies involving animals are promising “as an additive to established interventions” (Nimer and Lundahl, 2007).

Animal and human health intertwined

Finally, phenomena such as the mad cow disease or avian flu remind us of the extent to which animal and human health are intrinsically intertwined.

In this dossier, we invite you to listen to the historian Thomas Schlich who describes the complexity and subtleties of animal-human relationships in the development of modern surgery; the anthropologist Melanie Rock who reviews, from a public health perspective, the links between animal and human health; Carolyne Mainville, occupational therapist, who explains how horses can provide tailor-made therapies for patients; and two parents, Julie and François, who describe how their children benefit from hippotherapy. We also review the latest research on canine olfactory detection of cancer.

Of course, our few entries do not do justice to the complexity and scope of the knowledge accumulated on the role of animals in the development of health innovations. However, we hope that it will raise your interest, pushing you to reflect and seek to learn more on this subject.


Author :Myriam Hivon, Ph.D.


Agence d’évaluation des technologies et des modes d’intervention en santé (AETMIS). Mobility assistance dogs for mobility-impaired people. Report prepared by Imen Khelia, Myrlande Martin and Stéphanie Adam with the collaboration of François Pierre Dussault. (AETMIS 07-04). Montréal: AETMIS, 2007.

Hideto Sonoda, Shunji Kohnoe, Tetsuro Yamazato, Yuji Satoh, Gouki Morizono, Kentaro Shikata, Makoto Morita, Akihiro Watanabe, Masaru Morita, Yoshihiro Kakeji, Fumio Inoue, Yoshihiko Maehara. (2011). Colorectal cancer screening with odour material by canine scent detection. Gut, 60: 814-819 originally published online January 31, 2011. doi: 10.1136/gut.2010.218305

Lail, Parabhdeep, McCormack, Gavin R, Rock, Melanie (2011). Does dog-ownership influence seasonal patterns of neighbourhood-based walking among adults? A longitudinal study. BMC Public Health, 11:148

Mayon-White, Richard (2005). Commentary: Pets – Pleasure and Problems. BMJ, 331, 26 November: 1254-1255.

Nimer, Janelle, Lundahl, Brad (2007). Animal-Assisted Therapy: A Meta-Analysis. In Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals, 20 (3): 225-238

Schlich, Thomas, Mykhalovskiy, Eric, Rock, Melanie. (2009). Animals in Surgery – Surgery in Animals. Nature and Culture in Animal-human Relationship and Modern Surgery. Hist.Phil.Life.Sci, 31: 321-354.


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