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Service dogs may reduce PTSD symptoms for military members and veterans

Nationwide study details how service dogs may reduce PTSD symptoms and improve the quality of life for military members and veterans

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Male military service member in uniform with service dog

For military members and veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), adding a service dog to their usual care could reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms, feelings of anxiety, and lower depression while enhancing their quality of life and psychosocial functioning, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The trial, which is the largest nationwide study comparing service dog partnerships to usual care alone, included 156 military members and veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Participants were recruited through the database of K9s For Warriors, an accredited non-profit service dog provider. Under U.S. federal law, service dogs are “individually trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”

After three months, the 81 participants who received service dogs reported significantly lower PTSD symptom severity, anxiety, and depression, as well as less social isolation and higher companionship than the 75 participants in the control group who were waitlisted for a service dog. All participants received unrestricted access to their usual care outside their participation in the study.

PTSD is characterized by symptoms of intrusion, increased arousal and reactivity, and avoidance of trauma reminders, among other symptoms, and remains difficult to treat. Those with PTSD may also have other conditions, including major depression and general anxiety disorder. An estimated 23% of military members and veterans with post-9/11 service have PTSD, and veterans are more likely to die by suicide than non-veterans.

The study was led by Marguerite E. O’Haire, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, Tucson, and colleagues, and is published in JAMA Network Open. NIH funding was provided by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, and other organizations.

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About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD leads research and training to understand human development, improve reproductive health, enhance the lives of children and adolescents, and optimize abilities for all. For more information, visit nichd.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit nih.gov.