Study Shows Service Dogs are Associated with Lower PTSD Symptoms Among War Veterans | HABRI

Study Shows Service Dogs are Associated with Lower PTSD Symptoms Among War Veterans

West Lafayette, IN (February 8, 2018) — A preliminary study led by researchers in the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine has shown that overall symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are lower among war veterans with service dogs. The pilot study was co-funded by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Bayer Animal Health.

The study was led by Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human-animal interaction, with the help of K9s For Warriors, an accredited non-profit organization that provides veterans with service dogs. The pilot research project provides scientific evidence of mental health benefits experienced by veterans with PTSD who have service dogs.

“We found that the group of veterans with service dogs had significantly lower levels of PTSD symptomology than those who did not have a service dog,” O’Haire says. “They also had lower levels of depression, lower anxiety and increased social participation, meaning a willingness to leave their house and go engage with society in different activities.” The study is published in the February issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Participants were recruited between November 2015 and February 2016 from a national sample of 304 individuals who applied and were approved to receive a trained PTSD service dog from K9s For Warriors. Of these, 141 individuals chose to participate in the preliminary trial. Approximately half of the sample of participants were on the waitlist to receive a service dog and the other half already had a service dog.

Measurements of various aspects of PTSD symptoms, quality of life, social functioning and work were analyzed and compared between the two groups. Results reveal that veterans suffering from PTSD exhibited better mental health and well-being on several measures if they had a service dog, including:

  • Lower overall symptoms of post-traumatic stress
  • Lower levels of depression
  • Higher levels of life satisfaction
  • Higher overall psychological well-being
  • Lower levels of social isolation and greater ability to participate in social activities
  • Higher levels of resilience
  • Higher levels of companionship
  • Less absenteeism from work due to health among those who were employed

The only areas measured in which there was no significant difference between the two groups were physical functioning and employment status.

“This innovative study applied rigorous research methodology to an area that has historically been characterized by a reliance on anecdotal accounts and intuition rather than evidence-based science,” O’Haire says.
Kerri Rodriguez, human-animal interaction graduate student in the College of Veterinary Medicine, was co-author of the study.

“The results have important implications for understanding the specific areas of life that a PTSD service dog may help improve” says Rodriguez. “As the number of service dogs given to veterans with PTSD continues to increase, this is an important first step towards proof of concept that service dogs can actually provide measurable, clinical changes for veterans.” O’Haire and Rodriguez also say that service dogs did not replace evidence-based treatment for PTSD, nor did they cure it. While the veterans still had PTSD, they had significantly lower levels of symptoms.

“Pairing service dogs with our nation’s veterans should be recognized as a significant complementary method of treatment,” says HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has cited a lack of scientific research supporting service dogs for veterans with PTSD. This study is a significant step in providing scientific documentation, and I hope the promising results from this study will prompt a renewed focus on the benefits that service dogs provide.”

Bayer Animal Health Vice President for Companion Animal Product Marketing David Van Brunt says the lifetime bonds that these service dogs form with their veterans are built on mutual love, care and devotion. “The results of this study demonstrate not only the impact of this unbreakable bond, but that these service dogs are so much more than service dogs; they are able to bring the joy of living back into veterans’ lives. Bayer is committed to ensuring that these service dogs receive the proper and routine care they need to support their veteran on a daily basis,” Van Brunt says.

The research team will now move on to a National Institutes of Health-funded research project in which veterans with and without service dogs will be studied for an extended period of time. O’Haire says the valuable data from the pilot study helped secure the NIH R21 grant to conduct the large-scale, clinical trial to further investigate the efficacy and role of service dogs for military veterans with PTSD and their spouses.

Abstract

Psychiatric service dogs are an emerging complementary treatment for military members and veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet despite anecdotal accounts of their value, there is a lack of empirical research on their efficacy. The current proof-of-concept study assessed the effects of this practice.

Method

A non-randomized efficacy trial was conducted with 141 post-9/11 military members and veterans with PTSD to compare usual care alone (n = 66) versus usual care plus a trained service dog (n = 75). The primary outcome was longitudinal change on the PTSD Checklist, including data points from a cross-sectional assessment and a longitudinal record review. Secondary outcomes included cross-sectional differences in depression, quality of life, and social and work functioning.

Results

Mixed model analyses revealed clinically significant reductions in PTSD symptoms from baseline following the receipt of a service dog, but not while receiving usual care alone. Though clinically meaningful, average reductions were not below the diagnostic cutoff on the PTSD Checklist. Regression analyses revealed significant differences with medium to large effect sizes among those with service dogs compared to those on the waitlist, including lower depression, higher quality of life, and higher social functioning. There were no differences in employment status but there was lower absenteeism due to health among those who were employed.

Conclusions

The addition of trained service dogs to usual care may confer clinically meaningful improvements in PTSD symptomology for military members and veterans with PTSD, though does not appear to be associated with a loss of diagnosis.

Writer

Megan Huckaby

Sources

Dr. Maggie O’Haire
765.494.7991
mohaire@purdue.edu

Contact

Jamie Baxter

jamie@theimpetusagency.com

775.322.4022

###

Press Releases
HABRI Hosts Virtual Lecture on the Impact of a Shelter Cat Fostering Program on the Mental Health of Older Adults Living Alone

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and IDEXX held a virtual lecture on the impact of a shelter cat fostering program on the health and wellbeing of older adults living independently alone. This was the second in a planned series of lectures, sponsored by IDEXX, to highlight impactful scientific research on the health benefits of the human-animal bond and the importance of veterinary medicine in strengthening human-animal bonds. In this lecture, “The Impact of a Feline Fostering Program for Older Adults Living Alone”, Dr. Sherry Sanderson, BS, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVIM, Dipl ACVN, Associate Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, discussed the main aims and shared preliminary results of her ongoing HABRI-funded study, “Healthy Aging: Human Companionship Through Fostering Felines”, which have indicated that participation in the foster cat program decreases loneliness in older adults. “IDEXX is proud to sponsor this human-animal bond lecture and to provide pet owners and veterinarians with tangible, real-world examples of how the human-animal bond can improve lives in both humans and companion animals in need,” said Kerry Bennett, Corporate Vice President, IDEXX. Funded by HABRI, “Healthy Aging: Human Companionship Through Fostering Felines” aims to determine if fostering a shelter cat, with the option for adoption, improves the mental health and emotional health of older adults living alone. In addition, Dr. Sanderson and her research team are assessing the impact of feline fostering on older adults’ interest in and commitment to adopting their foster cat, as well as evaluating the feline fostering program as a sustainable partnership between the University of Georgia and community partners. Preliminary results indicate that participants experience a decrease in loneliness at one- and four-months post placement of the foster cat, and that the level of comfort participants receive from their cats continually increases...

Press Releases
New Survey Reveals 97% of Doctors Believe There Are Health Benefits to Owning a Pet

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, today released the results of a first-of-its-kind survey detailing the views of family physician on the benefits of pets to human health. “Doctors and their patients really understand the human health benefits of pets, and they are putting that understanding into practice” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative funds research on the evidence-based health benefits on humananimal interaction, and this survey demonstrates that we are on the right track.” HABRI partnered with Cohen Research Group to conduct an online panel survey of 1,000 family doctors and general practitioners. This is the largest survey of its kind to explore doctors’ knowledge, attitudes and behavior regarding the human health benefits of pets. The 28-question survey was conducted in late August 2014 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%. The physicians in the survey had a median of 18 years of practice experience. Among the survey’s key findings: Most doctors have successfully worked with animals in medicine. 69% have worked with them in a hospital, medical center, or medical practice to assist patient therapy or treatment. They report interactions with animals improve patients’ physical condition (88%), mental health condition (97%), mood or outlook (98%), and relationships with staff (76%). Doctors overwhelmingly believe there are health benefits to owning pets. 97% reported that they believe there were health benefits that resulted from owning a pet. The majority of doctors have recommended a pet to a patient. 60% of doctors interviewed have recommended getting a pet to a patient. 43% recommended the pet to improve overall health and 17% made the recommendation for a specific condition. Most doctors have seen their patients’ health improve as a result of pet ownership. 75% of physicians said they saw one or more of their patients overall health...

Press Releases
Pets Bring Joy and Health Benefits to People Staying at Home Around the World; Now Two Organizations are Teaming up to Share the Science and Research Behind This

As millions of pet owners around the world are staying at home during the COVID-19 crisis, many are discovering the benefits of sharing more time with their pets. Research into simple acts like walking a dog or petting a cat continues to demonstrate what many pet owners around the planet have long understood: spending time with pets can provide a wide range of benefits to people, from improved mood and reduced stress, to decreased loneliness and even lower blood pressure. Now, two not-for-profit organizations are teaming up to help amplify and promote the global science and research insights behind the benefits of living with pets. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) based in Washington, D.C., and the Global Alliance of Pet Food Associations (GAPFA) based in Brussels, Belgium, are working together to promote their on-line libraries of scientific research. Both organizations and their members have spent years aggregating scientific knowledge and information examining how pets and people are beneficial for each other. These learnings span many age groups, cultures and geographies and are posted on their respective websites, www.habri.org and www.gapfa.org. Key resources include information on the physical and mental benefits of pets for children, adults, and older people. “Pets make our lives better in so many ways, and this is true anywhere around the world,” said GAPFA President David Corley. “Pets give so much to us, and it is our responsibility to ensure we are providing the best nutrition to enable them to be at their best. GAPFA represents 13 national and regional pet food industry associations and three international pet food manufacturers, and we are pleased to join with HABRI to highlight the special companionship and significant health benefits that pets bring to our lives, especially in times like these.” “As people practice social distancing and stay home, they are increasingly turning to pets for comfort, joy and companionship,” said...

HABRI