veteran holiding cute puppy

Human Animal Interaction

Study to examine possible benefits of dogs to veterans

ISAZ and Waltham to support new research looking into the potential benefits of dogs to returning service personnel with mental health issues

December 21, 2016 - One in five US veterans of recent conflicts suffers from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. This can lead to huge problems, including family breakdown, substance abuse and an inability to re-integrate with wider society.

Many US welfare organisations are now attempting to address the problem, but until now few had paid much attention to the possible benefits of interacting with animals. In other areas of therapy, pets are known to have positive impacts. So it seems likely that they may also be useful for veterans with mental health issues. However, evidence is scant.

To better understand the potential, Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors (C.P.A.W. W.), a health research initiative at the University of Colorado School of Nursing, has received funding for a new study to evaluate the physical and psychological impact of shelter dogs on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The research will be funded in part by a grant from the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) and Waltham.

Veterans in the study will walk shelter dogs over an eight-week period to see if this affects stress levels and psychological outcomes. The researchers will monitor various cardiovascular and hormonal measures of stress, and also assess stress in the dogs themselves by collecting data on heart rate variability. This will provide important information on the mutual benefits of the human-animal interaction.

The United States is home to more than 21 million veterans. The large numbers returning home from conflicts in locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan has highlighted the need for effective healthcare options, particularly for conditions such as post-traumatic stress.

Given the large number of shelter dogs in the United States (3.9 million) their potential to be a convenient, cost effective resource for beneficial human-animal interaction is at present unknown. This study could lead to future larger scale investigations of the effects that psychiatric service dogs have upon veterans with post-traumatic stress.