Animals and the NDIS... what you need to know!

Whether it be an assistance animal providing vital daily assistance, a companion animal or even an animal for therapy purposes, there is no denying that animals can have a big impact on our lives. However, there can be a lot of confusion around what the NDIS will and won’t fund. To make things a little easier, and to dispel some of the confusion, we have taken a deep dive into animals and the NDIS to help you to better understand what support you may be able to access.

Young person being treated with the assistance of a trained dog

Assistance animals

An assistance animal is more than just a cute face, they can help support people with disability to build their capacity, live safely, become more independent, and complete everyday tasks.

Assistance animals need to be specially trained by an accredited assistance animal provider to “perform at least three tasks or behaviours that reduce the functional impacts of a person’s impairment and is assessed by an authorised body for access.”

Those tasks or behaviours might be things like:

  • Open and close doors or fridges

  • Open and close drawers or cupboards

  • Pick up dropped items

  • Reassure you in times of extreme anxiety

  • Press the button at traffic lights

  • Take clothes out of the washing machine

  • Help you find your way around safely, including stopping at kerbs and stairs

  • Guide you through crowds

  • Find a spare seat on a bus

  • Help you find doors on cars and trains

  • Blocking or being a barrier to other people if needed

Examples of assistance animals that may be funded by the NDIS:

  • Dog guides (a.k.a. guide dogs or seeing eye dogs)

  • Medical alert animals

  • Hearing assistance animals

  • Mobility assistance animals

  • Psychiatric assistance animals

  • Assistance animals for developmental disorders

For an assistance animal to be approved by the NDIS, they need to pass a special test known as a Public Access Test to ensure they can access public places and transport safely and effectively.

Pets or companion animals are different from assistance animals and are typically not funded by the NDIS (see below for more details).

Pets and companion animals

Under the NDIS, there is a distinct difference between assistance animals and pets or companion animals. As a result, the NDIS are less likely to fund a pet or companion animal. This is because, unlike with an assistance animal, a companion animal doesn’t typically relate to a specific disability support need.

If you have a pet or companion animal, the NDIS won’t provide funding for training your pet, for support workers to care for your pet on your behalf or for the cost of food and veterinary care. However, if the NDIS considers it to be reasonable and necessary, they may fund disability related supports to help you take care of your pet.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal assisted intervention (AAI) and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are occupational therapies that aim to assist people in achieving their goals through the involvement of an animal in a therapy-based setting.

Some effects that AAT, AAI and AAA can have include:

  • Improved cognitive function

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Skill building for human interactions

  • Reduction in agitation, stress, depression, and anxiety

  • Improved mood

  • Reducing the feeling of loneliness or boredom

  • Building better mobility

  • Building better self-esteem

One of the more popular AAT’s is equine assisted therapy (EAT), which can include things like grooming, feeding, riding, and other therapy-based treatments with a professional occupational therapist or psychologist.

As with any animal-based therapy, the NDIS will need to determine if it is reasonable and necessary, good value for money, and that it will be of benefit to you. If you would like funding for any animal-based therapies, then it is important to ensure that they connect to your NDIS goals.

Creating Goals

As you are probably aware, the NDIS is very goals focused. Your goals (short and long-term) help to shape your NDIS plan and plan funding. If having an assistance animal or animal therapies is something that you would like included in your plan, then you will need to factor that into your goals.

Here are some examples of assistance animal and animal therapy related goals:

Example #1

To meet new people and improve communication skills.

This goal can apply to having an assistance animal and to animal therapies. Both can provide the opportunity for you to socialise more within your community. For example, if a dog guide can help you to more easily and safely access your community, meet new people and improve your communication skills.