Most people will have heard about the use of pets for therapy but for those of you who haven’t, it is where people are given the chance to interact with a trained animal. It is believed to help people relax and recover from or cope with health problems or mental disorders. Most commonly used are dogs and cats but other animals can be used if they meet the criteria and it depends on the therapeutic needs of the person.
Therapy pets can help reduce blood pressure and increase the release of endorphins which help you to feel calm, alleviate pain and stress and improve your psychological wellbeing. Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human animal bond. (Healthline, 2019)
Some of the goals of a pet therapy programme include:
- Increased physical activity
- Improved self esteem
- Reduces risk of depression
- Improving joint movement
- Encourages communication
- Lifts spirits and lessens depression
- Decreases feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Increases socialisation and sense of community
- Reduces boredom
- Decreases anxiety
- Helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders
- Creates motivation
- Helping children learn nurturing skills
- Improving the relationship between you and your healthcare provider
Most animals have a calming effect on human beings which is why so many people have animals as pets. Therapy pets can be useful for people undergoing chemotherapy, residents in long-term care facilities, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, children having physical or dental procedures, stroke victims and people undergoing physical therapy to regain motor skills and people with mental health disorders.
You might not find this surprising when it comes to talking about dogs and cats but what about chickens? A part of the agricultural economy as well as our food chain and yet today, across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, chickens are being used as therapy animals. Chickens might not seem like a conventional therapy animal but they are proving a powerful therapeutic tool for those suffering from anxiety, depression, isolation, loneliness and dementia.
A charity called Henpower, set up in 2011 in Gateshead, encourages henkeeping as a way to combat loneliness and depression among older people. A study by Northumbria University published in 2014 found that Henpower improved the health and wellbeing of older people and reduced loneliness and depression. (Your Chickens, 2018)
Henpower encourages people to get involved with caring for the chickens, not just petting them, but building coops, cleaning them and feeding them whilst learning more about them at the same time.
So, why do chickens make good therapy pets?
Chickens for therapy are being used in senior long term care environments and care homes. They are a good alternative for people who are allergic to the generic therapy pets. They promote mobilisation, getting people outside and interacting with the animals. Plus they make people laugh, which for people facing serious health challenges is extremely beneficial. For those who have grown up in an agricultural environment it can have strong links to their past, so although it may seem unconventional and may not be for everyone, for people with a connection to chickens it can evoke feelings of home. That sense of familiarity is an especially important tool for staff who are treating dementia patients.
Residential facilities are introducing hen therapy by including coops on their sites giving residents the chance to care for chickens as part of their daily routine. Studies into these pilot programmes have shown that “chickens at nursing homes can reduce resident-to-resident altercations, reduce antipsychotic drug use and increase the number of visits residents receive from friends and family.” (Fowler, 2018)
It’s not just the elderly who can benefit from this however, Rainbow Horses in Leicestershire, a charity which uses chickens to help educate children with autism said it also allows them to build up trust with animals. They use other animals as well as chickens but they believe it helps teach the children “trust and empathy”. (BBC News, 2019)
Although therapy chickens and pets can offer a variety of benefits please consider any risks involved and seek advice from a trained therapy pets organisation.
BBC News. (2019). ‘Feeding chickens calms me down’. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc. co.uk/news/av/uk-england-leicestershire-47002898/chicken-therapy-helps-to-calm-autisticchildren [Accessed 14 Aug. 2019].
Fowler, K. (2018). The Calming Effect of Therapy Chickens. [online] Next Avenue. Available at: https://www.nextavenue.org/calming-effect-therapy-chickens/ [Accessed 14 Aug. 2019].
Healthline. (2019). Pet Therapy | Definition and Patient Education. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/pet-therapy#benefits [Accessed 14 Aug. 2019].
Your Chickens. (2018). How chickens can help in therapy. [online] Available at: https://www.yourchickens.co.uk/news/how-chickens-can-help-in-therapy-1-5608647 [Accessed 14 Aug.2019].