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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dr. Maggie O’Haire
More Press Releases
New HABRI Survey: Knowledge That Pets Improve Our Health Boosts Animal Welfare
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation today announced the findings of a new survey on the impact of knowledge of the scientific benefits of the human-animal bond on how pet owners care for their companion animals. The survey asked pet owners about their awareness of research that shows pets improve human health and found that this knowledge has the power to motivate them to take better care of their pets in important ways. “Scientific research shows that pets are good for our health, improving heart health, relieving stress and positively impacting conditions from autism to PTSD,” said HABRI Executive Director, Steven Feldman. “Now, for the first time, we have data to show that it’s a two-way street – when we know how good pets are for us, we are more likely to take better care of them!” According to the survey, seventy-one percent of pet owners were aware of scientifically-documented health benefits from pets. Most importantly, when asked how knowledge of the scientific research on the human-animal bond would affect their actions: 89% of pet owners said they were more likely to take better care of their pets 75% of pet owners said they were more likely to microchip a pet to ensure it can be found if lost or stolen 51% of pet owners said they were more likely to purchase pet health insurance 62% of pet owners said they were less likely to skip visits to the veterinarian 74% of pet owners said they were less likely to give up a pet for any reason 88% of pet owners said they were more likely to provide their pets with high-quality nutrition 92% of pet owners said they were more likely to maintain their pet’s health, including keeping up with vaccines and preventative medicine The survey also examined how different generations of pet owners viewed and reacted to the human-animal bond. For millennials, in particular, learning about the scientific research on the health benefits of pets had a large impact: 80% of millennials said this...
New Study of Animal Assisted Interventions in Trauma Treatment Finds Reduced Depression, Anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress
The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation today announced the publication of a systematic literature review on Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) for trauma in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The findings demonstrated that the animals helped ease anxiety, reduce depression, and mitigate symptoms of post-traumatic stress. This is the first published study of more than a dozen HABRI-funded research projects examining the effects of companion animals on human health. Marguerite E. O’Haire, PhD, of Purdue University, systematically collected and critically assessed current research from a variety of electronic databases, including HABRI Central, on AAI for trauma in order to more closely look at the empirical data that evaluates the practice of animal inclusion in psychological treatment. Participants in the studies were predominantly survivors of child abuse, followed by military veterans. The most common animals included in treatment were dogs and horses. “We conclude that AAI may provide promise as a complementary treatment option for trauma, but that further research is essential to establish feasibility, efficacy and manualizable protocols,” said Dr. O’Haire. The study researched current evidence that suggests animals may provide unique elements to address several PTSD symptoms. For example, people with PTSD often experience emotional numbing, yet the presence of an animal has been reported to elicit positive emotions and warmth. Animals have also been demonstrated as social facilitators that can connect people and reduce loneliness, which may assist individuals with PTSD break out of isolation and connect to the humans around them. “Based on Dr. O’Haire’s work, HABRI has further evidence that AAI can positively affect depression, anxiety, social outcomes, sleep, child functioning and quality of life,” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman. “With this important study as a roadmap, HABRI has committed funding for a study...
Pet Partners and HABRI Join Forces to Promote Human-Animal Bond
Pet Partners, the nation’s leading organization in animal assisted interventions, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation to advance both scientific study and public policy that recognizes the positive impact that companion animals have on human health. “In signing this agreement to develop a more formal working relationship with HABRI, Pet Partners recognizes the importance of developing scientific evidence that shows the positive human health outcomes associated with the human-animal bond,” said Annie Magnant, President and CEO of Pet Partners. “Together, along with the Pet Partners grassroots network of more than 11,000 therapy animal teams, we can share this science and advance policies that recognize the healing power of pets.” “Pet Partners sets the gold standard for animal assisted interventions and has an array of effective programs to help and heal people with the power of the human-animal bond,” said Steven Feldman, HABRI Executive Director. “HABRI has the scientific research programs and Pet Partners has the paws on the ground – it’s a great combination.” Pet Partners and HABRI will work together to support pet-friendly public policies, arming a far-reaching network of Pet Partners therapy animal teams with the latest research results to persuade more people and institutions to recognize the impact of animal assisted interventions. Pet Partners will look at practical applications in program development resulting from HABRI supported research, making the research come to life. HABRI will also promote opportunities for Pet Partners therapy animal teams to participate in high-quality research projects that examine the important role of companion animals in human health. “The phrase ‘human-animal bond’ was coined by Leo Bustad, one of the founders of Pet Partners,” said Magnant. “The importance of evidenced based outcomes is at the very core of the Pet Partners...