Adopting a Dog May Help Veterans with PTSD

ATLANTA – Adopting a pet dog may prove a useful addition to treatment for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), helping to alleviate PTSD symptoms, depression and loneliness, according to research presented at the 2016 American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.

In this pilot trial, researchers led by Stephen Stern, M.D., adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and research investigator at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System in San Antonio, compared a control group with a group of veterans with PTSD who adopted a dog as a supplement to usual care. The participants were veterans in active treatment for PTSD.

The participants were randomly placed into either immediate dog adoption group (dog group) or a three-month waitlist group (control group). There were nine veterans in the dog group and 10 in the control group. The veterans assigned to adopt a pet were each allowed to select a dog to adopt from the Humane Society from among several identified by a veterinarian. The dogs were pets, not service animals.

Over the three-month period the dog group showed significantly more improvement in PTSD symptoms than the control group. Researchers also looked at measures of depression and loneliness. Average scores on scales of both depression and loneliness improved for the dog group and declined for the control group.

In semi-structured interviews, most veterans in the dog group reported developing close bonds with their pets and becoming more physically and socially active. They also described improvements in their overall happiness, ability to cope with stress and relationships with others.

Support for the research was provided by Rehabilitation Research and Development Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society whose 36,500 physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders.

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