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  • Posted June 5, 2024

Service Dogs Work Wonders for Veterans With PTSD: Study

Military veterans often struggle with their mental health once their service ends, but the first clinical trial of its kind has found that having a service dog helps lower the risk of PTSD for these former soldiers.

Veterans paired with a service dog had 66% lower odds of a PTSD diagnosis, compared to a control group of vets still waiting for a service dog, researchers reported June 4 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

These vets also experienced lower anxiety and depression levels, as well as improvements in most areas of emotional and social well-being, researchers found.

“This research reinforces what we have been studying for almost a decade -- that service dogs are linked to significant benefits for many veterans suffering from PTSD and other invisible wounds of war,” said lead researcher Maggie O'Haire, associate dean for research at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Service dogs are more than pets -- they can be essential partners in helping veterans readjust and thrive after they return from service,” O'Haire said.

For the study, researchers tracked more than 150 military veterans over three months. 

Vets received their dogs through the program K9s For Warriors, the nation's largest provider of trained service dogs for military veterans.

Most of the dogs provided by K9s For Warriors are rescues, researchers noted. The program trains them, on average, for six months, then pairs them at no cost with veterans who are struggling emotionally and at great risk of suicide.

It's estimated that nearly 20 veterans die by suicide every day, and that more than 1 million vets suffer from PTSD, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma, researchers said.

“Having paired more than 1,000 service dogs with veterans, our work has clearly demonstrated that these dogs are lifesaving and life-transforming. These dogs have enabled our Warriors to better connect with family, friends and their community and to begin living the life they previously didn't think was possible,” said Kevin Steele, chief program officer at K9s For Warriors.

“The results of this study further prove what we do here at K9s works, and we continue to have the research to back up the success of our program,” Steele added in a K9 for Warriors news release.

More information

K9s For Warriors has more about its service dog program. The American Psychiatric Association has more on the mental health benefits of pets.

SOURCE: K9s For Warriors, news release, June 4, 2024

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