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
New Study to Examine Wellness Effects of Animals on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) today announced it has awarded a $40,000 grant to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for a study titled Physiological Wellness Effects of Animal-Assisted Activities in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in a Specialized Psychiatric Hospital Program. This study will examine the influence of animal-assisted activities on the mental health and wellness of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is hypothesized that children will demonstrate lower physiological arousal when in the presence of dogs. “Anecdotal reports of animal-assisted activities have observed such benefits as decreased anxiety-related behaviors as well as increases in social interactions, language, and safety awareness [in children with ASD],” said Dr. Robin Gabriels, PsyD, Principal Investigator and Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “But we are in need of more research on how canines specifically, can be helpful to this population. It is our hope that our pilot project will provide preliminary evidence to validate the observed benefits and increase understanding of the mechanisms underlying this positive effect.” The two-year crossover study will examine participants during a standard 20-minute social skills group, with 10 minutes of free interaction in the presence of a dog and 10 minutes in the presence of engaging toys. Using specialized wristbands to measure physiological arousal, researchers will compare the levels conducted within the two sessions. “With high-quality scientific research, HABRI can make animal-assisted therapy a valuable addition to the treatments available for people with autism spectrum disorder,” said Steven Feldman, Executive Director of HABRI. “There is a growing body of scientific evidence that companion animals are important to human health. This research will ultimately help...

Press Releases
Independence Pet Group Joins with HABRI to Champion the Human-Animal Bond

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today that Independence Pet Group (IPG) has become an official supporter of HABRI and its scientific research on the mutually-beneficial relationship between people and companion animals. “Independence Pet Group’s mission is to strengthen the unique bond between pets and their people through our innovative products and services,” said David Kettig, CEO of IPG. “We are excited to work with HABRI to further our common goals.” Scientific research demonstrates that having pets in our lives can lead to better physical and mental health for people of all ages. Importantly, the more pet owners learn about scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond, the more likely they are to take positive action including better pet care and more regular veterinary visits. “HABRI is grateful for the support of Independence Pet Group, which is dedicated to helping pets and their owners with its lineup of products and services, including pet insurance, enabling pet owners to get access to quality veterinary care. IPG’s brands also work to support a more pet-friendly society through its Dogs At Work program and by working with companies of all sizes to provide pet insurance to their employees,” said Steven Feldman, President of HABRI. According to HABRI research, pet-friendly companies are better able to attract, retain, and engage employees, as well as showing care and concern for both employee and pet health. More than ninety percent of employees who work for pet-friendly companies feel their employer supports their physical health and mental wellbeing, significantly more than companies that do not have policies that accommodate pets. “Independence Pet Group looks forward to joining forces with HABRI to champion the human-animal bond across all aspects of society,” added Kettig. “At IPG, we know just how important the human-animal bond is and we want to help elevate the world’s understanding...

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...

HABRI