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 Research to Study Impact of Therapy Dogs On Stress and Academic Performance in Children with Autism
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today it has awarded a $33,717 grant to the Texas Tech University for a new study, Integration of AAI and Applied Behavior Analysis to Improve Academic Performance in Children with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disability (IDD). This study will examine the effect of an integrated animal-assisted intervention (AAI) in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) on children’s academic performance and physiological stress. “The goal of this study is to determine if interaction with a therapy dog during an ABA-based intervention results in improved academic response and a decrease in child stress levels,” said the study’s principal investigator, Alexandra Protopopova, PhD, Texas Tech University. “The results of this study may provide support for incorporating animals into ABA-based therapy, a bridging of two beneficial therapies for individuals with ASD/IDD that could result in the emergence of advancements in behavioral science.” The one-year, single-subject designed study will examine 6 children between the ages of 4 and 13 with ASD/IDD. The unique, within-subject design will use the 6 participants to address each aim of the study. Dr. Protopopova, Assistant Professor of Animal and Food Sciences and co-investigator Breanna N. Harris, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of the Department of Biological Sciences, will expose each child to 5 conditions, 5 times each in a random sequence and will measure on-task behavior and collect saliva for measurement of cortisol levels. The investigators will then compare each condition on an individual basis. It is expected that when provided with a therapy dog during the ABA-based intervention, the children will have significantly lower stress and that the dogs will be a more potent and durable reward for children, resulting in educational improvements. “Scientific research, including results of previous HABRI-funded studies, has shown that therapy dogs can have a positive...
Turn Your Office Into A ‘Woofice’
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) announced today the latest installment of The Pet Effect campaign highlighting the many benefits of pets at work. The Woofice combines research supporting the benefits of pet-inclusive workplaces with practical tools for offices that want to become pet inclusive, all delivered with an entertaining, lighthearted approach. The Woofice video features a series of vignettes designed to pay homage to the beloved TV show, The Office, while delivering research-based messages about the positive impact of pets in the workplace. “With millennial pet owners driving demand for more pet-friendly offices, The Woofice campaign is incredibly timely,” said Steven Feldman HABRI Executive Director. “It is HABRI’s genuine hope that The Woofice videos and campaign content catch on and inspire people to take steps to create pet-friendly workplaces, so that the benefits of strong and healthy human-animal bonds can not only be experienced at home but also every weekday from 9 to 5!” Research supports a host of benefits from having pets at work. For example, research has found a link between a pet-friendly workplace and improved communication and collaboration among employees. Studies have also shown that pets can help buffer stress, encourage interaction and rapport between neighbors in communities, and improve other elements of physical and mental health, such as increased physical activity and decreased depression. “The Woofice video is a fun way to educate employees and HR professionals on the importance of pet-inclusive workplaces for greater productivity, enhanced employee engagement, and improved relationships in the office,” Feldman added. The Woofice campaign includes data on pet-inclusive workplaces, which found that pet-friendly companies are more likely to attract, engage and retain employees. It also highlights research showing that more than three times as many employees at pet-friendly workplaces reported a positive...
New Research to Explore Effects of Service Dogs on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Their Caregivers
The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has announced funding for a new research project led by the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine to evaluate the effects of service dogs on children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their caregivers. The two-year grant from HABRI will enable the research team to conduct a study quantifying the therapeutic effects of service dogs on children with ASD and their caregivers in collaboration with service dog provider Canine Companions for Independence. “While anecdotal evidence suggests service dogs may benefit children with ASD, there is a need for published data on this subject,” said the study’s Principal Investigator, Marguerite O’Haire, PhD, Associate Professor of Human-Animal Interaction, who is part of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. “As the largest and most extensive study on service dogs for children with ASD and their caregivers to date, we expect the findings to provide critically-needed outcomes for this increasingly prevalent application of the human-animal bond.” The study, called the Purdue Canines for Autism Research Study, or Purdue CARES, will compare up to 50 families engaging in usual care that have an ASD service dog with up to 50 families engaging in usual care while on the waitlist to receive a service dog. Participation will include caregivers completing a 30-60 minute online survey and facilitating three mornings of saliva collection with the child to measure cortisol, a stress hormone. O’Haire and Purdue co-investigators Kerri Rodriguez, Dr. Mandy Rispoli and Dr. Bridgette Kelleher along with Dr. Evan MacLean of the University of Arizona will conduct the study, which focuses on children diagnosed with autism who range from ages 4-17. The researchers will compare the symptoms of children who currently have service dogs in the home and those who are on a waiting list for a service dog. They also will assess participants’ cortisol levels, a...