PVM Research on Service Dogs and Veterans with PTSD Garners Widespread Media Coverage
A team of researchers led by Purdue Veterinary Medicine Assistant Professor of Human-Animal Interaction Maggie O’Haire has produced valuable scientific data documenting the nature of the effect of service dogs on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Published in the February issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the study found that service dogs are associated with lower PTSD symptoms among war veterans.
The pilot study was co-funded by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Bayer Animal Health. Dr. O’Haire, a faculty member in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Comparative Pathobiology and member of the PVM Center for the Human-Animal Bond, and her team of researchers conducted the study with the help of K9s For Warriors, an accredited nonprofit organization that provides veterans with 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,” Dr. O’Haire said. “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 findings begin to fill-in the lack of actual scientific evidence of a correlation between service dogs and levels of PTSD symptoms experienced by veterans. “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,” Dr. O’Haire said. Click here to view a video of Dr. O’Haire explaining the study.
The groundbreaking nature of the study has attracted significant media attention, perhaps best represented by a recent front page story in the Washington Post. Additional coverage has appeared in such on-air and print publications as:
- SFGATE, the website sister-site of the San Francisco Chronicle
- Denver Post
- Tampa Bay Times
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- New Haven Register
- Anchorage Daily News
- WISH-TV, Indianapolis
- The Radio Pet Lady Network
- Sirius XM Doctor Radio
- Veterans Radio
- Psychology Today – Hal Herzog, PhD, blog post
- Clinicians Trauma Update
The study dates back to November 2015, when participants were recruited 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.
Kerri Rodriguez, human-animal interaction graduate student in the Department of Comparative Pathobiology, was co-author of the study. Kerri is part of the Purdue University research group led by Dr. O’Haire, called the Organization for Human-Animal Interaction Research and Education (OHAIRE).
“The results have important implications for understanding the specific areas of life that a PTSD service dog may help improve,” Kerri said. “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.” Dr. O’Haire and Kerri also point-out 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.
The research team now is moving forward with 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. Dr. 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.
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