A new study published in Anthrozoos has concluded that military veterans with heightened symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may benefit from an improvement in symptoms by walking dogs. 

The 8-week study1, which was part-funded by the ISAZ/Waltham Petcare Science Institute Collaborative Research Award and Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors (C-P.A.W.W.), compared the effects of walking with a shelter dog vs. walking with a human and the impact they had on psychological stress indicators, PTSD symptoms and the stress in reintegrating military veterans.

The veterans in the study who walked with shelter dogs experienced improved rate variability and decreased levels of salivary cortisol – both signs of relaxation and improved stress response.

Waltham points to a Journal of Psychiatric Research estimate that up to 25% of military veterans who have transitioned out of active duty would meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD2. This, says the Institute, could mean that up to 625,000 of the 2.4 million3 military veterans currently living in the UK could potentially be living with this mental health issue.

Dr Kay O’Donnell, Ph.D., Vice President of the Waltham Petcare science institute, said: “This study further highlights the potential of dog walking to improve the lives of both veterans and shelter dogs by offering veterans a way to make a difference in the lives of shelter animals – while dogs are simultaneously helping veterans with symptoms of PTSD.

"At the Waltham Petcare Science Institute we believe we have a responsibility to take scientific exploration further when evidence to date shows us that pets can be part of addressing conditions like PTSD. It’s important we undertake rigorous studies to understand how companion animals may provide a benefit and we’re proud to be part of this study, which takes us another step forward in understanding the human-animal bond."

References

  1. Cheryl A. Krause-Parello, Erika Friedmann, Kelly Blanchard, Megan Payton & Nancy R. Gee (2020) Veterans and Shelter Dogs: Examining the Impact of a Dog-Walking Intervention on Physiological and Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms, Anthrozoös, 33:2, 225-241, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2020.1719763
  2. Mota, NP., et al., 2019 Dec. Posttraumatic stress symptom courses in U.S. military veterans: A seven-year, nationally representative, prospective cohort study. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 119(Dec), pp.23-31.
  3. Ministry of Defence. Annual Population Survey: UK Armed Forces Veterans residing in Great Britain, 2017. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/774937/20190128_-_APS_2017_Statistical_Bulletin_-_OS.pdf Last accessed: June 2020.

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